Researchers from Belgium have given us one more reason to wish the winter away. And this one is a whole lot more serious that the typical winter blahs. It turns out that Old Man Winter may be trying to kill us by raising our risk of heart attack.
According to the new study—presented last month at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in the Netherlands—when the temperature goes down, our heart attack risk goes up.
When temps drop, risk of heart attack rises
The large study compiled the data from 10 population based studies across seven countries. In the end, heart-related data on 107,090 patients between the ages of 35 to 80 had been crunched. And what they found could have you packing your bags and turning into a snowbird.
For every 10-degree Celsius drop in temperature (that’s an 18-degree Fahrenheit drop), the risk of heart attack shot up by seven percent.
Now I know that on the surface seven percent may not seem like a huge number. But if you’re IN that heart attack group all of a sudden seven percent seems very significant.
Besides, when I did a little number crunching of my own I found that if you take the number of people involved in this study alone, seven percent works out to 7,496 heart attacks, which I think by anyone’s standards is a lot. And remember, that seven percent rise was tied to a 10 degree drop in temperature. A drop of 20 degrees Celsius (or centigrade) could mean a 14 percent bump in heart attacks.
And although it looks like an acute heart attack is by far the worst thing Old Man Winter is hiding up his chilly sleeves, it’s not the only thing. Other cardiovascular risks rise during winter too, according to the Belgian researchers.
Systolic blood pressure levels were, on average, 3.5 mm HG lower in the summer months than the winter ones. And not surprisingly, since so many of us end up hiding indoors in the cold weather, waistlines were on average around 1 cm smaller during the warmer months. Even total cholesterol levels took a dip during those sunny summer days, down on average about 0.24 mmol/L.
The research team isn’t sure exactly what’s causing the increased risk of heart attack, but they have a theory that cold receptors located in our skin may get triggered by the dropping temperatures. This in turn may cause our sympathetic nervous system to dump extra hormones known as catecholamines into our system.
Typically catecholamines such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine are released into our blood stream during times of physical or emotional stress. And as anyone who lives in a part of the country that gets particularly cold, stepping out into bitterly cold temperatures can sure feel stressful alright.
And, of course the cold simply makes our blood thicker meaning that blood clots are more likely to form.
Work on “winter proofing” your heart
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a connection made between dropping temps and heart attacks. A couple of years ago a British study, published in the journal BMJ, found that for every one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) drop in temperature in the UK, there were around 200 additional heart attacks.And, just as worrisome, the jump in the risk of heart attack hung around for 28 days after the exposure.
So, besides hopping a plane to the nearest warm locale, you may be wondering what you can do. Hibernating is out of the question and hiding inside all winter isn’t the answer either. In fact, this would likely make things worse because inactivity will surely cause your other risk factors to go up.
Instead it’s time to “winter proof” your heart!
Keeping up with your regular exercise program and making some changes to how you’re eating can help. I know it’s tempting to reach for the comfort foods during winter but, as I explained before on the NorthStar blog, opting for the healthy (and still ridiculously delicious) Mediterranean diet can dramatically lower your risk of heart attack.
Next, add in some heart-healthy supplements like vitamin D, CoQ10, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids to name a few. (Despite what the mainstream media smear campaign last year would have you believe, fish oil is still tops for your ticker, as I explained here on the NorthStar blog.)
A doctor skilled in natural medicine can help you decide which supplements are right for you. Oh, and don’t forgot to snack on some berries… shown to slash heart risks… for good measure.
And the next time someone complains “This cold weather is killing me!” feel free to tell them it very well could be true.