Warning: Winter weather can take a deadly toll on your heart

Here’s how you can protect yourself—without heading South

The change in seasons comes with no shortage of health hazards. Holiday stress, indulgent eating, and weight gain alone make for a nasty trifecta. But these aren’t the only seasonal threats to your health.

In fact, there’s one silent factor that can sneak up on you regardless of how expertly you handle all the usual holiday hurdles. And if you don’t pay attention, it could be lethal.

I’m talking about the weather.

Maybe you’ve already heard that cardiovascular risks soar higher in the winter. But I want to underscore the fact that the weather doesn’t have to be brutal or record-breaking to do serious damage.

The good news is, while you can’t control the weather, you can protect yourself from its dangerous effects. I’ll tell you how in just a moment. But first, let’s talk about why and how winter weather takes its toll on your heart.

Your blood pressure rises as the mercury drops

Simply put, cold temperatures cause your blood vessels to constrict—it’s your body’s way of conserving heat and staying warm. This leads to a rise in blood pressure. And not exactly a small one, either. In fact, studies on mice indicate that continuous cold exposure could raise blood pressure by as much as 50 percent within five weeks.[1]

The rise you’ll see depends on a variety of factors—temperature, wind chill, length of exposure, activity levels, etc. But researchers at University of Florida have shown that spending just five minutes in 52 degree temperatures—hardly freezing—is enough to trigger significant spikes in blood pressure. And experiments indicate that these cold-related rises could last for hours.[2]

But there’s also the problem of shorter days—and restricted access to sunshine. Scientists believe that this compounds the risk to your arteries. For one thing, lack of sunlight lowers vitamin D production. (And as you may recall, low levels of D have clear links to blood pressure elevation and heart risk.)

What you may not know, however, is that UVA exposure also triggers the release of nitric oxide (NO) stores underneath your skin.[3] And nitric oxide plays a critical role in vasodilation—the relaxation of blood vessels that lowers blood pressure and allows your circulation to flow more freely.

Obviously, these small weather-related changes can snowball into major—even life-threatening—disasters. And unfortunately, recent studies illustrate that deadly domino effect in pretty terrifying fashion.

Heightened risk of heart attacks and stroke

A team of Taiwanese researchers recently looked at data from nearly 300,000 people with atrial fibrillation. (This is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. And it can lead to stroke, heart failure, and sudden death.)

And they found that, over a three-year study period, risk of stroke was almost 20 percent higher in the winter months. What’s more, even mild temperatures—we’re talking anything below 68 degrees, which a lot of people wouldn’t even consider chilly—were enough to boost stroke risk in this population.[4]

When temperatures drop below freezing, the threat only escalates. Another recent study looked at data from residents of Winnipeg, Canada over a six-year period. And results showed that when the mercury dropped to 32 degrees or lower, rates of the severest form of heart attack jumped by 16 percent.[5]

Winnipeg may be one of the coldest big cities in the world. But it bears repeating that these are not polar vortex conditions we’re talking about here. And no matter how accustomed to winter weather you think you are, your body may have different plans. Which means that you need to be prepared for them.

Push your pressure back down without ridiculous diets or drugs

Regardless of what the American Heart Association claims, a low salt diet isn’t the solution to this problem. And neither are side-effect laden drugs, except as a last resort. (Research indicates that most of them may not do much to prevent cold-related blood pressure changes, anyway.)

I shared my strategy for natural blood pressure control in detail back in the April 2016 issue. But here it is again, in case you missed it:

Pycnogenol®. This brand of French maritime pine bark helps keep the collagen and elastin in your blood vessel walls healthy. And that helps your blood flow smoothly, which is key for lowering blood pressure. I recommend 100 mg per day.

Black raspberry. Recent research shows that supplements containing a dried powder extract from black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) can reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number on a blood pressure reading) by as many as 5 points. You can find black raspberry powder in capsules or in “purples” blends, which you can mix with water and drink.

Magnesium orotate. Regulating blood pressure is one of magnesium’s many roles in the body. And orotate is the most absorbable form. I recommend 60 mg per day.

Taurine. This amino acid acts as a natural diuretic—which helps regulate your blood pressure. Take 1,000 mg twice per day.

Garlic. Probably the oldest blood pressure “medication” there is. It’s been used for centuries—and is just as effective today as it was hundreds of years ago. I recommend 300 mg three times per day.

Theanine. This amino acid has significant calming properties. And since stress is a major factor in hypertension, theanine is one of the most helpful supplements. I recommend 200 mg three to four times per day.

SAM-e. Another amino acid I’ve found to be exceptionally helpful for regulating mood and stress. And, in turn, blood pressure. I generally recommend 400 mg each morning.

Of course, the most vital strategy here is simply to stay warm and get plenty of sunshine.

Admittedly, not an easy task for anyone living outside of South Florida. But there are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself in any location.

Always dress for the weather. And while exercise is important, you need to be wary of overexertion in frigid temperatures if your blood pressure is already high. Move your workouts inside, or stick with low intensity walks—complete with coat, gloves, hat, and scarf—instead.

Finally, don’t forget to take your vitamin D. It can’t completely replace sunshine—but it will help you to minimize your body’s losses until longer, warmer days return.

I recommend taking at least 2,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3, year round. But that dosage may require some adjustment in the dead of winter. I take 10,000 IU per day myself—and you may need doses that high, as well. Getting your levels tested is the only way to know. (You can order your own vitamin D testing kit through a company called Direct Labs. Just visit their website at www.DirectLabs.com/OVH1. Or call 800-908-0000 and reference account code: R-OVH.)

Just remember that what most doctors and lab reports consider “sufficient” is by no means optimal. Aim for a sweet spot between 80 and 100 ng/mL. And accept nothing less.

Sources:

[1] University of Florida Health Science Center. “Cold Weather Hikes Blood Pressure, UF Scientist Warns.” Science Daily. 9 February 2005.

[2] ibid

[3] Liu D, et al. J Invest Dermatol. 2014 Jul;134(7):1839-46.

[4] “The relationship between cold temperature and risk of ischemic stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation.” Eur Heart J (2015) 36 (suppl 1).

[5]“How cold is too cold: the effect of seasonal temperature variation on risk of STEMI.” Eur Heart J (2015) 36 (suppl 1).


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