Environmental toxins are increasingly indicated as factors that increase the risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), strokes and heart attack, along with contributing to other chronic illness such as dementia and cancer.
We’ve often been told that the principle antagonist has been cigarette smoke, but that’s old hat. It’s no longer the number 1 toxin surrounding us. Far from it.
There is now good evidence from several large population studies that other airborne particles such as diesel fumes (6) increase CVD morbidity and mortality.
Increasingly, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, aldehydes, and even heavy metals have been reported to elevate CVD risk (1).
For example, pyrethroids, a common class of insecticides, used for lice, mosquitoes and other insects, increase you risk of heart problems and an early death, according to a 2019 December study by Iowa College of Public Health in JAMA Internal Medicine. People were followed across a 15-17 year period (5).
Cadmium is a widespread toxic metal that can be measured in urine. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins has shown that people with higher levels in their bodies have an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and increased cardiovascular mortality (4).
Maternal exposure to drugs, toxins, and infection has been linked with cardiac birth defects and premature CVD in later life. We know that exposure to pesticides when pregnant can cause illness in the offspring years later, and even childhood cancers. It is not just that mum is exposed to chemicals; many are hormone disrupters.
Worryingly, in-home environments are increasingly seen to be greater sources of toxins that the work place or even supposedly ‘dirty’ inner city centres. The average housewife now comes into contact with over 680 chemicals of concern in a month in the UK – through cleaning materials and even her toiletries and personal care products.
Research is in its infancy. But that did not stop EuroMPs passing a resolution to ban over 1,000 common chemicals in toiletry and in-home products, a few years ago. Their resolution was vetoed from on high. Cheap ingredients and the cost of a product are more important, in everything from toothpastes to nail polish and carpet tile glues, than your heart attack risk. And these ingredients often get into the blood stream all too easily. Professor Philippa Darbre of Reading University showed that 5 out of 6 Parabens preservatives are always found in breast cancer tissue. But these weren’t coming from Parabens in food preservation. The liver wasn’t involved. These were coming through the skin, unaltered.
Researchers at Uppsala University have now shown that PCBs and DDT (an insecticide) in the blood stream are linked with greater levels of blood clots, stroke and heart attacks (2). Lars Lind, Cardiovascular Professor, and his team had previously shown that greater levels of PCBs in the blood were linked to more atherosclerosis, particularly in the carotid artery. PCBs are ubiquitous, being in floor coverings, plastics, thermal and cable insulation etc. They are in your home. And Parabens and PCBs are also endocrine disrupters. They mess with your hormones!
Older people with higher PCB levels had more than twice the risk of stroke.
Then there are drugs. Let’s look at a common drug, Naproxen, so safe it was sold over the counter! No prescription necessary. Data collected from an NIH clinical trial showed that people taking a 220 mg pill twice a day had a 50% increase in heart problems – including heart attack and stroke.
Many environmental toxins damage the microbiome. Of course they would, the bacteria in your gut are at risk from pesticides, drugs, antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors and other environmental toxins. Recent studies show that artificial sweeteners, consumed two days in a row, can damage your microbiome and, like most chemicals, reduce your immune system and restrict your microbiome’s ability to make helpful compounds like propionate which regulates cholesterol formation in the body.
Do you still think your heart problems are all your own fault? Build yourself your own microenvironment – a protective place where you just don’t let these environmental toxins into your home or your life. Of course, it’s not easy, but even the longest road starts with the smallest step.
- Timothy E O-Toole et al; Rev Environ Health 2008; Jul-Sept 23 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19119685
- Uppsala University – https://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-07-link-environmental-toxins.html
- Naproxen and risk of heart attack or stroke – https://www.uwhealth.org/files/uwhealth/docs/pdf/hvc_NaproxenandRiskofHeartAttackandStroke.pdf
- Maria Tellez-Plaza et al, Epidemiology, 2013 May, 24(3)
- JAMA Network, Pyrethroid insecticides – time for a closer look
- Effects of Diesel exhaust on cardiovascular function https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/ars.2017.7174