DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 66-year-old male in good health who was just informed by my doctor that the diameter of my aortic root has increased to 4.3 centimeters. Last year, the echocardiogram showed a number of 4.1. I have heard that running, which makes the heart rate go up, can contribute to the enlargement of the aortic root. Is there any truth to that? I hate to give up exercising. -- G.S.
ANSWER: Dilation of the aortic root is an early stage of an aortic aneurism. The larger it is, the more dangerous, as it becomes more prone to rupture. At the size yours is, regular surveillance is recommended. This is what your doctor is doing. If the aortic root enlarges to 5 cm or greater, elective repair usually is recommended. Yours seemed to grow 2 mm in one year, so in a few years you may need a repair. However, it is difficult to measure the aorta precisely, and it is possible that your rate of expansion is different from what was seen on the echocardiograms.
A CT or MRI scan is likely to have more precise results, and it is recommended that people with an aortic root measuring between 3.5 and 4.5 cm get screened annually.
Exercise is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it has many cardiovascular benefits. On the other, too-vigorous exercise, in theory, could accelerate the enlargement of the aortic root. One recommendation is to keep your exercising heart rate below 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. A stress test is the most precise way to find your maximum heart rate, but there are several formulas to predict it, the most accurate of which (for men) is 207 minus 70 percent of your age, which for you gives a target maximum heart rate of 113.
A high-quality exercise monitor would be a good purchase, and some have alarms if you go over your target heart rate. It may be that jogging (or even brisk walking), rather than running, will be your best exercise. Heavy lifting is not recommended.
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DEAR DR. ROACH: I read somewhere that the daily consumption of a frozen grated lemon over cereal and salads can help prevent cancer. Is this just an old wives’ tale, or is this, in fact, true? -- Anon.
ANSWER: I have learned respect for the wisdom of the ages, passed down mostly by women for generations; there often is a kernel (or more) of truth in them. In this case, while it is true that fruits and vegetables reduce cancer risk, the magnitude of benefit from the lemon is small, and the benefit from the salad (and possibly whole-grain cereal) probably is greater. Lemon juice (or frozen grated lemon) has no dramatic effect on preventing or curing cancer.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I have seen internet articles claiming rapid weight loss while taking CLA safflower oil. Do you have any information regarding this oil or this claim? -- A.A.
ANSWER: CLA and safflower oil are not the same thing. Safflower oil is not a good source of conjugated linoleic acid. One study compared the two in overweight postmenopausal women with diabetes, but while the safflower oil group had some favorable changes in body composition, neither group showed rapid weight loss. Other studies have shown, at best, minimal weight loss. I don’t recommend either CLA supplements or safflower oil for weight loss.