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Improve Your Heart Health by Avoiding Environmental Triggers

forside_pollutionBy Deirdre Imus, 2/27/15
When we think about how the environment affects our health, we tend to think about lung conditions, various cancers, or developmental problems in our kids. We don’t often think about the heart, which can only become diseased due to poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, or family history – right?
 
Wrong.
 
A slew of recent research indicates that the cardiovascular system is particularly sensitive to the toxins in our midst. Pollution sources in this country are many, and they are ubiquitous. As the American Heart Association notes on its website, some people’s hearts are more affected by pollution than others, namely elderly folks or those with pre-existing cardiac disease, because pollutants can play a role in causing plaque in a blood vessel to rupture. This triggers a heart attack.
 
In its scientific statement on the subject, the AHA stresses that even short-term pollution exposure can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, arrhythmias and heart failure in susceptible people. Writing in the European Heart Journal last year, a panel of heart experts noted that airborne particles from traffic, construction, power plants, and oil/coal/wood burning are especially dangerous because they can cause blood clots and heart rhythm disturbances. 
 
Doctors suggest regularly checking your local Air Quality Index, avoiding outdoor activities when pollution is high, and investing in home air filtration systems – but that does little to solve the underlying problem, which is that modern society relies too heavily on toxic substances just to get through the day. We’re addicts, and unless given incentive to quit or forced through legislation to make substantive changes, our dealers (big industry) are unlikely to do an about-face anytime soon. 
 
We can alter our habits though, an action much more likely to gain attention if it starts impacting the bottom line of the polluters.  Replace old, energy inefficient appliances in your home with newer, energy efficient models. Recycle regularly – it conserves energy and reduces production emissions, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out. Drive efficient vehicles and carpool to work, or take public transportation when possible. These are just some examples of how you can make a difference; check out www.epa.gov for more ideas. 
 
Pollution plays a role in heart disease, but it isn’t the only environmental factor at work. A study released late last year showed that drinking from a can lined with the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) caused people’s blood pressure to rise. BPA is also routinely found in plastics and receipts.  We already fear BPA for many reasons – it’s an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to brain impairments – and I’m not sure what exactly it will take for this toxin to be banished from our supermarket shelves, and our lives. 
 
Another carcinogen to watch out for is mercury, which is found in varying levels in nearly all fish consumed by humans. A 2011 study found that mercury – already implicated in impaired neurological development in fetuses, infants and children – can cause a host of cardiovascular complications, including hypertension, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction (heart attack), arrhythmias, and stroke. What’s more, the purported benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish seem to be diminished by the presence of mercury. 
 
As American Heart Month draws to a close, consider the steps you can take to improve your heart health by avoiding environmental triggers. When you choose a cleaner lifestyle, it tells food producers, product manufacturers, and representatives in our government that you care about your health, your planet, and how the two intertwine – and that maybe it’s time they started caring too. 
 
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