HEART ATTACKS DEATHS ARE HIGHEST IN DECEMBER: UNDERSTAND YOUR RISKS AND TAKE PRO-ACTIVE STEPS TO PROTECT YOUR HEALTH
Statistically, death from heart attacks are highest in December and during the winter holiday season than any other time of the year. In fact, Christmas Eve is the worst day of the year for heart attacks, with risk rising nearly 40 percent. More specifically, research showed that most heart attacks hit around 10 p.m. that day.While it is not exactly known why heart attacks are more common around holidays, there are a number of possible reasons, including changes in diet and alcohol consumption during the holidays, stress from family interactions, strained finances, travel and entertaining, respiratory problems from burning wood, physical exertion from plowing snow picking up heavy packages and not paying attention to the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. In order to understand how all these seemingly unrelated events or circumstances can all lead to increased risk of heart attack, we must first understand what causes a heart attack.
Heart attacks result from coronary artery disease which stems from atherosclerosis, a condition in which blood vessels become stiff, rigid and narrow from plaque build-up. In some people, narrowing of the blood vessels of the heart will be asymptomatic and they can do quite well despite the advanced coronary disease. On the other hand, some people with as little as 10-20% plaque will have a heart attack. So it is not always the degree of blockage but rather the vulnerability of the plaque. It is actually the plaque rupture that causes a heart attack. When a plaque ruptures, it causes a blood clot that leads to a heart attack. So what causes atherosclerosis, stiff arteries and plaque vulnerability? It is loss of production of nitric oxide.
Loss of production of nitric oxide is what allows plaque to deposit in the lining of the blood vessels. Loss of nitric oxide leads to increased oxidative stress, increased inflammation and immune dysfunction that occurs in the onset and progression of heart disease. If you can prevent the loss of nitric oxide production, you can prevent heart disease.
So what is it about the Christmas Holidays that increase deaths from heart attacks? Doctors have long known that cold weather is hard on the heart. Blood vessels constrict, which raises blood pressure. Blood also clots more readily. Frigid temperatures increase strain on the heart, and too much physical exertion can worsen the burden and trigger a heart attack. For example, doctors have treated many patients whose heart attacks followed strenuous snow shoveling.During the holidays, legions of Americans eat too much and drink more alcohol — while ditching their exercise routine. Needless to say, this combo isn’t healthy for the heart. People tend to gain weight during the holiday season and take in more salt, which can put additional stress on a weakened heart. Overeating and indulging in inflammatory foods can lead to vascular inflammation and cause a plaque to rupture. Stress due to travel, interacting with difficult family members, financial stress can all lead to heightened state of inflammation that can precipitate a cardiac event. The other thought is that people might delay getting treatment even if they have symptoms because they don’t want to disrupt Christmas and New Year’s festivities.
There are, however, common sense strategies you can implement to avoid a Christmas heart attack.
- Dress warmly. Try to avoid exposure to very cold temperatures.
- Relax and don’t stress. Steer clear of heart stressors, including too much physical exertion (especially snow shoveling), anger, and emotional stress.
- Make good food choices. Exercise discipline in your food choices. Eat good protein and vegetables with less processed carbs, breads and sweets.
- Breathe clean air. Practice deep breathing exercises. Go indoors during air pollution alerts but try to avoid breathing smoke from wood-burning fireplaces.
- Express gratitude and forgiveness. This time of year should be a time of appreciation, a time of love and a time to reflect on our many blessings. Happiness and gratitude are good for the heart, whereas fear and anger are bad for the heart.
- Supplement and restore your nitric oxide production. This can be accomplished by eating more green leafy vegetables, deep breathing, infrared sauna or through patented and clinically proven dietary supplements. This may be the most important thing you can do for your health, especially during the Holiday.
This month marks the one year anniversary of the death of our 20 year old son and so this will certainly be an emotional time of year for me and my family. I will certainly be following my own advice above. Life is precious and we all should work to show love and appreciation for our friends and family. In the blink of an eye, they can be gone and we will never have the opportunity to tell them or show them our love. On the other hand, you don’t want to be the one to leave your family from a heart attack. If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, call 911 for emergency help. The stakes are high. So give yourself and your family a gift this season. Give the gift of good health, love, appreciation and service to others. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and years of good health to enjoy all of our blessings.