Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Air Pollution Linked to Heart Disease; The Number One Killer of Canadian and American Women

I, like thousands other women watched Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette perform last night with tears in my eyes. This young Olympian, on the brink of the most exciting week of her life, lost her mother to a massive heart attack on Sunday morning. Therese Rochette was only 55 years old – tragic and all too common in North America.

Mistakenly thought of as a male health issue, heart disease is actually the number one killer of women over the age of 55 in both Canada and the United States. In fact, almost twice as many women die from heart related aliments than from all forms of cancer.

Researchers are beginning to see that this staggering health problem stems not only from lifestyle issues, but environmental factors as well. Only last week researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California , announced that their studies show that exposure to air pollution accelerates the thickening of artery walls that leads to heart disease. The problem was especially serious for those who lived next to a heavy pollution source which caused the thickening to progress twice as fast as for those who lived farther away.

Chemical exposure may also play a role in heart disease. In January, researchers reported that elevated exposure to bisphenol A seemed associated with a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s the second time researchers have made a connection between the controversial plastic compound and heart problems.

While these environmental factors definitely warrant more study, there are also numerous established risk factors that women can also address:

Tobacco Smoke:
While it’s no surprise that smokers have a higher risk of having a heart attack, many women don’t realize that regular exposure to second-hand smoke also puts them at greater risk.

Physically inactive women double their risk of developing heart problems. As little as 30-minutes of exercise four times a week could lower the risk.

High Blood Pressure:
Also called hypertension, this condition forces the heart muscle to work harder and causes damage to blood vessels, making them more likely to clog.

Body Weight:
Weight has a direct effect on a woman’s risk of developing heart disease. Experts say that even losing a small amount of weight can make a difference.