Health & Fitness

The superpower of statins

Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz
Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz Courtesy photo

In a tiny room in London’s New Scotland Yard there’s a police unit made up entirely of officers who have an uncanny ability to recognize human faces. These super-recognizers are transforming the justice system by ID’ing and catching criminals who appear blurry-faced on closed-circuit surveillance cameras.

Statins might have recently recognized superpowers, too. These supermeds could transform more than your risk for heart disease. For those who tolerate them well (they can have serious side effects or be contraindicated), statins can help protect you from some cancers and reduce the risks associated with osteoarthritis and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease!

You see, these heart-protecting medications do more than lower lousy LDL cholesterol. They nudge the immune system to reduce bodywide inflammation. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reveals that statins tamp down inflammatory immune cells that cluster around trouble spots, like plaque in arterial walls or damaged cartilage in your joints, and stimulate the arrival of anti-inflammatory immune cells. Statins also appear to influence cell proliferation and migration (fewer trouble-making inflammatory cells may contribute to this benefit), so they reduce the risk of tumor formation and the possibility of recurrence of cancer. In one Danish study, cancer patients taking a statin reduced their risk of dying during the study period by 15 percent.

So, if you’re at risk for heart disease or have any inflammatory condition, talk to your doc about taking a statin. It may help your cardiovascular and immune system super-recognize and expel some elements you don’t want hanging around.

Sauna vs. steamer

In 2014, when the Miami Heat played in their fourth NBA final, they thought they’d stay hot for seasons to come. But they cooled down when LeBron James took his steam to Cleveland and brought a whole new kind of heat to the Cavs.

There’s a lot of heat in saunas and steam baths, too, but like those two teams, they’re different. Saunas produce a dry heat between 160 F and 200 F with a humidity of 5 to 30 percent; steamers run about 110 F to 114 F with 100 percent humidity. And those differences trigger distinct bodily reactions.

A recent study in Biology of Sport measured how a sauna and steamer can affect you. Turns out body-mass loss was two times higher in a sauna than in a steamer; heart rate increased by almost 60 beats a minute in a sauna and 72 beats a minute in a steamer. As for your blood pressure? Folks’ top number (systolic or heart-pumping pressure) rose more from a sauna (up 20 points versus 17.7 in the steamer) and the lower number (diastolic or heart-resting pressure) fell more in the steamer (down 20 points versus 15 in dry heat).

That’s why, if you have heart disease or other chronic conditions, ask your doctor if either environment is good for you. In a sauna or steamer, only spend 15 minutes, max. Drink a large glass of room-temperature water before and two to four glasses after. Cool down gradually (no cold shower or immediate ice tub). And if you start feeling woozy, get out pronto!

Nasal spray dependency is nothing to sneeze at

Nasal decongestant sprays are designed to reduce nasal swelling. But when they wear off, nasal tissues swell back up; chronic use can lead to permanent swelling of and damage to nasal tissue. If you are going to use a decongestant spray, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology says you should limit it to no more than twice a day for three days. Exceed that, and you risk triggering rebound congestion – you’ll need more and more in order to get relief. Symptoms of dependency: You need to use the spray more often than recommended, and you use the spray daily just to breathe normally.

Safer options for clearing plugged up nasal passages include antihistamine or steroid sprays that (respectively) block the histamines that trigger allergic reactions and calm inflammation. Saline spray and neti pots (use only saline and keep them well-sterilized) also can loosen up mucus, provide temporary relief and don’t create the risk of rebound congestion.

Anxiety and cancer in men

In one episode of “The Office,” “Stress Relief,” boss Michael (Steve Carell) decides to subject himself to an office-wide roast in order to relieve his employees’ stress after Stanley (Leslie David Baker) has a heart attack during a fire drill gone dreadfully wrong.

But heart health isn’t the only risk from chronic stress. A study presented at a meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology looked at data on nearly 16,000 people over a 15-year period and found that men with general anxiety disorder, or GAD (a condition characterized by restlessness, trouble concentrating and sleeping, irritability, and muscle tension) have more than double the risk of dying from cancer compared to those without GAD. Interestingly, the correlation didn’t show up in women with GAD, even though they’re twice as likely to be diagnosed with it.

But trouble moderating a chronic stress response isn’t limited to folks with GAD, and the health repercussions aren’t limited to those with GAD, either. About 33 percent of Americans say they experience persistent stress or excessive anxiety daily or that they’ve had an anxiety or panic attack; 70 percent of those folks have trouble sleeping.

Clearly, if you frequently feel stressed, it’s smart to reduce any negative impact it has on your cardiovascular and immune systems! We recommend 15 minutes of mindful meditation (instructions at and a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercises, like interval walking or biking, daily. And if you find you can’t manage your anxiety on your own, talk to your doc. It could help save your life.

Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.