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Bad Air Is Bad for Your Heart

Many years ago, doctors believed that if you lived in highly populated and condensed areas (like a city) the air quality was more likely to be worse than in rural areas.

However, that is just a myth. No matter where you live, the quality of the air you breathe impacts you every single day.

Air pollution is the contamination of air by smoke and harmful gases; mainly oxides of carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen.

The longer you're exposed, the greater risk you have of developing some serious health complications.

In fact, according to EurActiv France, air pollution is responsible for 400,000 deaths each year globally; yet this problem hasn't been addressed by the world's governments.

Recently, the European Environment Agency (EEA) stated that air pollution was the leading environmental cause of death in urban Europe. In the study, cardiovascular disease and heart attacks are the main causes of death due to air pollution (80 percent).

Is there a way to keep your heart protected from the polluted air?

Dr. Mike shares how bad air can negatively impact your health and how you can protect yourself from developing health complications.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: May 28, 2015

Healthy Talk with Dr. Michael Smith MD. And now here is the country doctor with a city education, Dr. Mike.

DR MIKE: From a group coming out of Europe called EuroActive, a group of scientists, socialists - you know, what have you - from a report that they put out: "Bad air is bad for your heart." Bad air is bad for your heart. Responsible for 400,000 deaths each year globally, air pollution has yet to be sufficiently addressed by the world's government, researchers have warned.

So, let's talk about this connection between pollution, air pollution in specific, and heart disease. You know, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks heart disease -- it's interesting how they actually state heart disease. They say that "heart disease is the number one cause of premature deaths".

That's interesting because what they are saying is, if we took better care of our cardio-vascular systems, if we took care of our heart muscle, the heart valves, the rhythm of the heart; if we kept the vessels' openings clear so oxygen can get in and other nutrients can get in and waste products could get out; we would live longer. As a matter of fact, the heart, if we take care of it and the cardio-vascular system, we would live longer lives and when we don't take care of it, it leads to a death that happens at a younger age or pre-mature age.

I think, that's interesting how they actually state it.
In Europe, 4 million people die from heart disease. 1.9 million come from the EU, Europe by itself. That's according to the European Society of Cardiology. In the United States, 2011--that's the latest numbers I could find--787,000 people die from heart disease, right here in this country. That's from the Heart Foundation and a CDC report. It's a lot and I agree with the World Health Organization that these are young deaths, these are premature deaths, in many cases.

As a matter of fact, the founder of Life Extension, where I work, Bill Faloon, was a mortician. He started out as a mortician; that was his family business. And it was a fact that younger and younger men and women – women, too --were coming in dead from heart attacks. Even he, and that was back in '70s, he recognized the premature aspect of dying from heart disease.

So, we have this report that is linking air pollution to damaging the heart. This is according to an expert physician paper, published in the European Heart Journal. Many types--and this is the conclusion from this report--many types of cardiovascular disease are linked to poor air quality.

Not only does air pollution exacerbate existing heart problems but also appears to play a role in development of heart disease in otherwise healthy people. The researcher said there is particularly strong evidence of harmful effects of suspended particles as opposed to gas pollution. So, suspended air pollutants is really the issue. So, what are some of these particles they are talking about?

Well, among the most -- and there's a lot of pollutants in the air -- but I guess from a health point of view, from a cardiovascular point of view, the researchers outlined that the main gases and particles that they are concerned about are ozone, nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds like benzene - anything that you may spray, like an air freshener -- carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. So ozone, nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide--those are the main ones causing the heart problems. The sources of these types of gases and particles are road traffic, power generation, industrial processes, and, believe it or not, domestic heating. Homes, heating up homes, releases a lot of these volatile compounds.

Air pollution. You know, the European Environment Agency is kind of the equivalent of the EPA here in United States. They published a report before this publication in European Heart Journal.

It's kind of saying the same thing, and linking lots of the air pollution to cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. As a matter of fact, in that original report from the EEA, they said that cardiovascular disease and heart attacks are the main cause of deaths due to air pollution, 80%. Cardiovascular disease and heart attacks are the main causes of death due to air pollution. So, air pollution, when you look at all the problems it could cause, it mostly affects the cardiovascular system. Out of all the deaths that air pollution can cause, 80% of those are due to heart attacks, heart disease.

Out of all the problems in deaths that air pollution can cause, it mainly affects your heart. I keep repeating that because I think we've been misinformed maybe. We know that a lot of the pollutants in air are linked to things like Alzheimer's, dementia, even cancers and that seems to be where we've focused most of our attention. Turns out that shouldn't be the case.

The main organ in your body that air pollution affects -- it's not your lungs; it's not your brain-- it's your heart. It's your heart. Okay. Yes, so what are we going to do about all this? We have an air pollution problem throughout most of the world today. In the United States, we've done a little bit better job, I think, of cleaning up the air.

We have to be careful about relaxing some of the standards and regulations we've placed on, for instance, power generation--power plants.
I grew up in Southern California in the '70s and I distinctly remember -- now we were closer to the beach.

I lived in Mission Viejo, California, which is in Orange County just south of LA. And I can remember, we are may be 10 minutes from the beach and maybe 30 minutes away from the mountain range called Saddleback Mountain, and I remember at times being at the beach or even just at my house and looking east towards the mountain range and not being able to see anything but pollution -- just grey stuff and couldn't even see the mountains and they weren't that far away. Specifically, I remember those days when you could see the mountain range.

It was so rare in the '70s. People would actually comment about it, "Oh, my God! There's Saddleback Mountain. You can see it. Woo hoo! What a great day, get outside." That was in the '70s. The good news today is, it is more common to see the mountain ranges to the east of LA and Mission Viejo and San Diego than it is not.

So, in Southern California they have at least done a better job and I think the air quality has improved throughout the South and Northwest. I am not so sure about the North East. So, we've made some headway. But, obviously, one of the points of this whole report coming out--again, published in the European Heart Journal--was that we need more of a public action, we need more of the EPA, the European equivalent of the EPA. We need to be more stringent about controlling air quality.

And, you know, I would have to agree with that. Who doesn't? I mean, don't we want to breathe clean air? What can you do, though, personally? I mean from a personal level, there is not much you can do. There are little things you can do. Your impact as an individual in the outside air isn't going to be as great as your impact could be on the inside air, the indoor air quality. So, maybe that's where you can focus.

As a listener of Healthy Talk, focus on cleaner indoor air. There are some people who would tell you that indoor air can be worse than outdoor air. There's a great book on this by the way, My Sick Home, or My Sick House. I forget the author's name, too. Just go ahead and look that up My Sick Home, My Sick House. There are things you can do inside that will clean up the air quality. Stop using anything that produces volatile organic compounds, by the way, like air fresheners and stuff like that. There are more natural air fresheners that you can use. Clean out your lungs. N-Acetyl cysteine, artichoke extract, antioxidant and great for your lungs.

Clean out your liver. Help your liver detox this gunk with milk thistle and melon extracts which help the enzymes in the liver to detoxify these compounds. So, there are things you can do more personally.

So, yes, bad air equals bad hearts. This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I am Dr. Mike. Stay Well.