Some seemingly innocuous health habits can pose a threat to your heart. Here the experts explain how you can use this knowledge to protect your most vital organ. By Helen Foster
You know smoking and too much saturated fat and salt are bad for your heart, but here we reveal nine surprising ways you could be raising your risk of heart disease. Remember, prevention is always better than cure.
Heart Harmer: Taking extra calcium
Supplementing with more than 1000mg of calcium a day may increase risk of heart attack. Exactly why isn’t known, but Dr Mark Bolland at the University of Auckland, who found the link, says that “Calcium may harden blood vessels or affect blood clotting.”
You don’t need to choose between your heart and your bones though – getting calcium from foods like low-fat dairy, bony fish like tinned salmon or leafy green vegetables is believed to be risk free, while doing weight-bearing exercise like walking, running or weights is hands-down the best bone builder, and not only won’t hurt your heart, it’ll positively strengthen it.
Heart Harmer: Having unprotected sex
Untreated chlamydia is well known as potential fertility harmer, but scientists in Canada have also linked it to inflammation that can damage the heart. On top of this, though, a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology linked infection with the strains of the HPV virus that cause cervical cancer to heart issues as well.
“While we’re not certain if there is a cause and effect relationship between the two, there is a clear-cut association,” says Dr Ken Fujise from the University of Texas Medical Branch. It’s possible that these strains of HPV switch off a gene called P53 that helps keep atherosclerosis, the furring of the arteries that leads to heart disease, under control. Your GP can test for both chlamydia and HPV.
Heart Harmer: Not visiting the dentist
New research seems to indicate keeping healthy teeth clean may help lower your risk of heart disease. Work by Dr Emily Chen from Taipei Veterans General Hospital found that people who had their teeth professionally scaled at least once a year had a 24 per cent lower risk of heart disease than those who hadn’t had a clean.
“Good dental hygiene protects the heart,” she says. “It’s possible oral bacteria in the mouth may cause a mild form of inflammation that increases the risk of arterial plaque formation. therefore raising risk of heart attack and stroke.”
Heart Harmer: Skipping your flu jab
Catching flu has been identified as a possible heart attack trigger, particularly in people with already narrowed blood vessels. “The areas of narrowing are called plaques and it is thought that flu might make these plaques unstable and more likely to rupture and block completely in some people. This is what causes a heart attack,” says Professor Niroshan Siriwardena from the UK’s University of Lincoln. He found older people who had flu jabs early in the season had a 20 per cent lower risk of heart attack over the next 12 months.
Heart Harmer: Binning the skin
You might think you’re avoiding pesticides and other nasties, but the peel of an apple contains a substance called ursolic acid that has been shown to lower cholesterol and other heart-harming fats in the blood, say US researchers. Wash them instead. You’ll also find the wonder acid in prunes, cranberries, and herbs like basil and thyme.
For more healthy heart tips pick up the July issue of Good Health magazine or subscribe at magshop.co.nz.