How breathing can lead to a heart attack - and how to stop it from happening

Volume 13    |   Issue 14

You know how when the sun's rays come streaming at an angle through a window you can see all kinds of particles in the air? The particles could be dust, smoke, mold, pollen, or who knows what. So what's the effect from breathing in these particles? Research has shown us that breathing in air with a high level of ambient particulate matter is one of the causes of cardiovascular disease. And amazingly enough, a recent study is showing that regularly supplementing your diet with one of the oils you probably already have in your kitchen will decrease the risk.

Epidemiological studies have already shown that the more exposure we have to ambient particulate matter at concentrations currently found in major metropolitan areas, the greater the likelihood that we will have cardiovascular disease. A recent statement from the American Heart Association concluded that even short-term elevations in particulate matter concentrations are capable of triggering acute coronary syndrome and stroke, worsening heart failure, and provoking arrhythmias among individuals with preexisting heart disease. But how can simply breathing in some particulate matter do something like that?

Particulate matter affects cardiovascular function because it interferes with the way endothelial cells function. Endothelial cells are the cells that line the arteries and capillaries. And in order for our cells to get the blood they need the endothelial cells must work at a high level. Decreased endothelial cell function is one of the root causes of all circulatory disorders from high blood pressure to heart attacks and strokes. So recently a group of researchers set out to see if there was a way to prevent the effect that particulate matter has on endothelial function.

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They took a group of 42 men and women between the ages of 57-59. They divided them into three groups. They gave one group three grams of olive oil every day. Three grams is about two-thirds of a teaspoon. They gave the second group three grams of fish oil. And they gave the third group a placebo. Then, after four weeks, they had all of the men and women breathe air containing a high concentration of particulate matter for two hours. Before and after the exposure to the polluted air they used a state of the art method called flow-mediated dilation to measure their endothelial function. Here's what they found.

The exposure to the particulate matter caused the greatest decrease in endothelial function in the placebo group. The fish oil group better — 29% better. And the olive oil group did the best — a full 61% better than the placebo. The authors of the study concluded that, "Olive oil supplementation may be an efficacious intervention to protect against vascular effects of exposure to particulate matter."

So if you live in an environment, such as a large metropolitan area in which there's a lot of particulate matter in the air, don't hesitate to get some olive oil in your diet every day. I have talked about olive oil before and the news is always good. It's clearly the best dietary oil. And what about fish oil? My guess is that if the researchers had tested a fourth group that took both fish oil and olive oil, the results would have been almost perfect.

Yours for better health,


Tong H, Rappold AG, et al. Dietary Supplementation with Olive Oil or Fish oil and Vascular Effects of Concentrated Ambient Particulate Matter Exposure in Human Volunteers. Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Nov;123(11):1173-9.

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