Environmental factors significant contributor to heart disease
Accessed from the world wide web at 16:00 hrs 20.10.21.
- Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death around the world.
- The mitigation of CVDs has typically focused on making individual lifestyle changes.
- However, some environmental factors — such as pollution and climate change — also significantly contribute to a person’s risk of developing CVDs.
- Experts argue that gaining a better understanding of this link is crucial to reducing the burden of CVDs.
In a new review, researchers make clear the effects of the environment on people’s risk of developing CVDs.
The research, which now appears in the journal Cardiovascular Research, also suggests mitigation strategies that could help reduce the global burden of CVDs.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source, CVDs are the leading cause of death globally. They claim the lives of around 17.9 million people each year.
CVDs affect the blood vessels and heart. They increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, which account for 4 out of every 5 deaths due to CVDs.
The WHO notes that a person is more likely to develop a CVD if they:
- are not physically active
- eat a diet high in salt and low in fruits and vegetables
- drink a lot of alcohol
These behaviors can lead to hypertension, high blood sugar levels, overweight, and obesity. In turn, these conditions can increase the risk of developing a serious CVD.
A key way to reduce the risk of developing CVDs is by reversing or reducing these risk factors.
However, researchers are becoming increasingly aware of the role that environmental factors also play in the risk of developing CVDs.
Medical News Today spoke with Prof. Aruni Bhatnagar, a professor of medicine and Distinguished University Scholar at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky. Prof. Bhatnagar is an expert on CVDs.
Prof. Bhatnagar, who was not involved in the new review, said that it was crucial that we take environmental risk factors for CVDs seriously.
“Traditionally,” added Prof. Bhatnagar, “we have focused on reduction of risk factors by behavior modification and lifestyle changes, but these approaches have limited efficacy.”
“Moreover, individuals by themselves cannot readily avoid exposure to many […] environmental factors, such as air pollution, noise, and built environments. Therefore, a larger social effort is required to mitigate environmental risks.”
“Research on environmental causes of disease could thus help in reorienting and focusing prevention efforts and making them more effective,” suggested Prof. Bhatnagar.
Lead study author Prof. Thomas Munzel — the director of cardiology at the University Medical Center Mainz of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany — also spoke with MNT. He explained that this research is particularly urgent given that official guidance typically overlooks the effects of the environment on CVDs.
He highlighted the 2019 American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines on the prevention of CVD, which do not mention environmental factors.
Prof. Munzel and colleagues also note that the WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013–2020Trusted Source does not mention environmental factors.
According to Prof. Bhatnagar, policymakers tend to overlook environmental risk factors for CVDs because analyzing them requires a cross-disciplinary approach.
“Environmental risk factors are multifactorial and hence difficult to study,” said Prof. Bhatnagar. “Identifying and addressing these risks are mostly beyond the reach of the current medical establishment.”
“Evaluating and assessing these risks and developing interventions to mitigate them require[s] multidisciplinary teams comprising […] environmental engineers, toxicologists, cardiologists, […] sociologist[s], policymakers, and, most importantly, community stakeholders — teams that have been difficult to assemble and deploy,” said Prof. Bhatnagar.
For Prof. Bhatnagar, research such as the recent article by Prof. Munzel and colleagues is important, but scientists need to do more.
“[M]uch additional research is needed to identify the relative risks of different exposures, how the effects of these exposures interact, how the effects of one exposure — [for example], air pollution — is modified by another — [for example], [the] built environment or noise — which populations are most vulnerable to such exposures, which specific pathways are affected by individual environmental factors, and what are the sources of these exposures.”
“A more comprehensive and holistic assessment of environmental conditions and exposures is needed both to understand and to minimize [the] environmental threat.”
“The most important task is to understand and modify how climate change is affecting the environment and how these changes are impacting human health,” argued Prof. Bhatnagar.
Prof. Munzel agreed that research into this topic needs to be increased.
“Research all over the place dealing with the environment has to be intensified, in particular with […] more funding from the governments,” Prof. Munzel told MNT. Notably, he concluded:
“No pharmaceutical industries are interested in this topic.”