Thursday 02 Oct 2014

Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

Meritorious achievement winner: You have to pay attention

Published: 9:14 am CDT, July 7, 2014

Obesity is one of the biggest bullies around when it comes to heart health. But a group of science and medical volunteers for the American Heart Association is fighting back.

“The problems we’re facing are bigger than any single entity can overcome,” said Ronald Krauss, M.D., who founded the AHA group that is now the Council on Lifestyle and Metabolic Health. Krauss, the senior scientist and director of atherosclerosis research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in Oakland, California, last month received one of the association’s meritorious achievement awards for his work in nutrition.

What was once the Nutrition Committee, where Krauss was an active leader for many years, has evolved into a multi-faceted meeting ground for scientists. The council provides a home to those who are addressing major health threats such as obesity, diabetes, metabolism and other issues with policies, in communities and through improved clinical practice initiatives.

From reducing sodium and added sugars to improving nutrition labeling to developing a national activity plan, the council identifies the best science and translates it into knowledge that helps fight heart disease, the No. 1 killer of all Americans.

Krauss spends more than 90 percent of his time running a research lab, with a strong commitment to advancing knowledge that can be put into practice.

He also fights heart disease in his clinical practice where he sees patients.

“I’ve been seeing patients for over 30 years, and it’s very satisfying to take care of their fundamental heart health,” said Krauss, whose lipidology practice helps people manage their cholesterol. “I learn from my patients. It’s a tremendous privilege to take what I do in the laboratory and do it in the clinic — and take what I do in the clinic to the laboratory. It’s a two-way street.”

Krauss said that treating patients as individuals is key — looking at a person’s unique combination of chemistry, genes and diet. He also takes into account cultural background and dietary preferences to figure out the best plan.

“Almost everyone comes to me is motivated to listen,” he said. “We do really well in preventing heart disease in my practice.”

And that means education — lots of it.

“What my work has shown is that there’s a strong component of risk related to starches and sugars,” he said. “These are major culprits in diet.”

His message: Cut the sugar.

“I often tell people to stay away from processed foods,” he said. “So many people really depend on sugary beverages and starches.”

That doesn’t mean giving up the treats you love, Krauss said. “You have to pay attention — that’s all.”

And he practices what he preaches, by eating right and fitting in fitness almost every day of the week. “Exercising regularly is absolutely key,” he said.

And while he encourages his patients to pay attention to their health, Krauss and other scientists are always paying attention to what’s happening in the research world. That helps him not only keep up with the latest science, but also help patients understand why recommendations sometimes change over the years.

“Science is really about learning. People get frustrated when they read that they should do or eat X, and later read, ‘no you should be doing or eating Y,’” he said. “When we say one thing in 2005, and come back in modify it in 2014, it doesn’t mean it was bad advice in 2005. We appreciate that science and knowledge evolve.”