Growing evidence: Environmental factors influence heart disease

heartIn the United States, we regularly hear messages about how to prevent heart disease. Eat more vegetables.  Exercise more. Avoid fatty meats. But there is a large and growing body of evidence that demonstrates the environment also impacts our risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The New York Times published a story last month that explained how environmental toxins are “an underestimated risk in heart disease.”

A systematic review published last year found strong evidence that high levels of chronic arsenic exposure leads to heart disease, stroke and arterial disease. The review concluded there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about low or moderate arsenic exposures.

An earlier systematic review found strong evidence that exposure to lead causes high blood pressure, and some evidence that lead can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Scientists believe they understand the molecular factors at work. Metals in the blood stream damage cell walls, weakening blood vessels. They cause scarring, which can thicken artery walls, and they slow the break-down of fatty acids, leaving more material to clog blood vessels.

The bottom line: Living in an environment free of toxins, such as arsenic and lead, is an important component of cardiovascular health.

There are a few things you can do to mitigate your risk. If you think there is lead in your home, ask your doctor to test your blood lead levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency posts local water quality tests online via an interactive map.  You can check there to see to find out if your municipality has any contaminants in its water supply.  If you have well water at your house, it’s important to have the water tested if you notice a change in your water, or if there are water quality problems in your area.

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