The greatest risk came within two weeks of cold-weather exposure, and those aged 75-84, along with those with coronary heart disease, were most vulnerable to the temperature changes.
“Cold temperatures are known to raise blood pressure and also increase levels of certain proteins that could increase the risk for blood clots. Certain activities more commonly performed during cold weather, such as snow shoveling, might also contribute to the risk, the researchers say.”
Many people are aware of the heart attack risk that can occur while shoveling snow, and this occurs not only because of the physical exertion but also because of the cold temperatures.
Winter is the most common season for heart attacks. Research shows there are up to 53 percent more heart attacks in winter than in summer, and twice as many heart attacks a day in January compared to July.
This latest study from the UK even found that each 1.8 degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature on any given day was linked to about 200 additional heart attacks.
Why Does Cold Weather Increase Heart Attack Risk?
There are most likely several factors involved. For starters, cold temperatures can cause a rise in your blood pressure along with increasing levels of proteins that raise your risk of blood clots.
When the weather is cold, your heart must also work harder to maintain body heat and your arteries tighten, which restricts blood flow and reduces the oxygen supply to your heart. When combined, all of these factors could trigger a heart attack, especially in the elderly or those with existing heart disease.
There is also the issue of hypothermia, which occurs when your body temperature falls below normal. Heart failure is the leading cause of death in hypothermia cases, which is why it’s very important to dress appropriately for the weather if you plan to be outdoors in the cold.
There is another factor, too, that may help explain why heart attacks occur more often during the winter, and this one has nothing to do with temperatures. Still, it may very well be more influential than all of these others combined … a lack of sunlight.
Dark Winter Days May Pose a Risk for Your Heart
Although many experts believe that colder temperatures cause heart attacks, if temperature is the sole factor then people who live at higher altitudes, where it is generally colder, should be more likely to die from heart attacks as well.
However, according to Dr. John Cannell, founder of the Vitamin D Council, Greek researchers found that people living at higher altitudes are actually less likely to die from heart disease. He wrote:
“Both the men and women living at 950 meters, where vitamin D-producing UVB light is much more intense, had significantly lower total and cardiac mortality than their lowland cousins. The lowland men were more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack in spite of having lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
Three epidemiological facts about heart attacks cry out for a simple explanation, a single theory that explains all the facts. The three facts: heart attacks are less common closer to the equator, less common in the summer, and less common at higher altitudes.
Three more facts: vitamin D-producing UVB light is higher closer to the equator, higher in the summer, and higher at higher altitudes.”
Because sunlight is scarce for many during the cold winter months, it can be very difficult to maintain high enough vitamin D levels, especially if you are not using a vitamin D3 supplement to make up for the lack of sunlight.
In the United States, the late winter average vitamin D is only about 15-18 ng/ml, which is considered a very serious deficiency state. In fact, it’s estimated that over 95 percent of U.S. senior citizens may be deficient, along with 85 percent of the American public, and this poses a very serious risk to your heart.
Your Heart Needs Vitamin D
If your vitamin D levels are not optimized, you're very likely putting your future heart health at risk.
Vitamin D is the only known substrate for a potent, pleiotropic (meaning it produces multiple effects), repair and maintenance seco-steroid hormone that serves multiple gene-regulatory functions in your body.
This is why vitamin D functions in so many different tissues, and affects such a large number of different diseases and health conditions, one of which is heart disease.
There are a number of physiological mechanisms triggered by vitamin D production through sunlight exposure that act to fight heart disease, including:
- An increase in your body's natural anti-inflammatory cytokines
- The suppression of vascular calcification
- The inhibition of vascular smooth muscle growth
In fact, in a Clinical Endocrinology study, researchers found that people with the lowest average vitamin D levels had a 124 percent greater risk of dying from all causes and a 378 percent greater risk of dying from a heart problem.
Researchers from Finland also showed that when compared with the participants with the highest vitamin D, those with the lowest levels had a 25 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.
Arterial stiffness, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, is also associated with vitamin D deficiency.
So you can see that being vitamin D deficient leads to massively increased risks for your heart -- and since maintaining vitamin D status requires extra attention during cold-weather months, it’s an important heart risk factor that should not be ignored.
Fortunately, vitamin D deficiency is incredibly easy to fix, but the only accurate way to determine your optimal dose is to get your blood tested. Ideally, you'll want to maintain a vitamin D level of at least 50ng/ml and perhaps as high as 80-90 ng/ml year-round.
I encourage you to watch my free one-hour vitamin D lecture to find out how to get your levels optimized.
More Tips for Lowering Your Heart Attack Risk
Heart disease causes more than one in every four deaths in the United States, and each year over 631,000 people die from this condition, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The good news is that heart disease is one of the easiest diseases to prevent and avoid, but you simply must be proactive in order to do this. Many people don’t realize that the most common symptom of heart disease is actually sudden death -- not chest pain or shortness of breath. Most of the time there are NO warning signs, so that’s why knowing, and monitoring, your risk factors is critical.
First, I recommend going through this checklist on How to Determine Your Cardiovascular Health, which includes both blood tests and simple do-at-home tests to help you determine if you're at risk of developing heart disease. About 20 percent of heart attacks go undetected, so checking your susceptibility is a good idea.
Next, you'll want to evaluate your lifestyle to ensure you're doing everything you can to lower your heart disease risk, which includes steps such as the following:
- One of the most important steps in lowering your heart disease risk is to take a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 supplement, such as krill oil.
- Make sure you're eating the right foods for your body's unique nutritional type.
- Exercise regularly. A comprehensive exercise program, including strength training, core exercises, stretching and Peak Fitness will help your heart stay in top form.
- Optimize your insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance, a major risk factor for heart disease. If your fasting insulin level is not lower than three, consider limiting or eliminating your intake of grains and sugars until you optimize your insulin level.
Then, to keep your insulin levels where they should be, get plenty of exercise and follow my nutrition plan, which will automatically limit your intake of foods that raise insulin levels.
- Again, make sure your vitamin D levels are optimized. Most people are not aware that vitamin D can have a profoundly dramatic impact on normalizing blood pressure and lowering your risk for heart disease.
Your best source of vitamin D is through your skin being exposed to the sun. In the wintertime, you can take an oral supplement. Just make sure you're taking the right form of vitamin D in the appropriate amounts to reap the benefits, and remember to get your vitamin D levels tested regularly.
High triglycerides are also an incredibly potent risk factor for heart disease. In combination, high triglycerides and low HDL levels are an even bigger risk; this ratio is even more important to your heart health than the standard good vs. bad cholesterol ratio!
In fact, one study found that people with the highest ratio of triglycerides to HDL had 16 times the risk of heart attack as those with the lowest ratio of triglycerides to HDL. So while you strive to keep your HDL cholesterol levels up, you'll want to decrease your triglycerides.
You can increase your HDL levels by exercising and getting plenty of omega-3 fats like those from krill oil. And triglycerides are easily decreased by exercising and avoiding grains and sugars in your diet.
These are steps you can take to protect your heart year-round, so come winter your heart will be more than ready for the challenge.