It’s well known that certain habits, like smoking or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, can damage your heart over time.
But many of the everyday habits that we don’t really think about — how frequently we brush our teeth, the supplements we take and the amount of coffee we drink — can also take a toll on the health of our hearts.
What we do, eat and drink can significantly influence our blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate, and ultimately influence our overall heart function.
Here are a few everyday habits that can contribute to heart problems:
Crash Dieting Or Eliminating Certain Macronutrients
Dr. Daniel Edmundowicz, the chief of cardiology at Temple University Hospital, said that people often think they are eating a healthy, balanced diet but, in actuality, are setting themselves up for heart problems down the road.
For example, he’s seen people adhering to a low cholesterol diet avoid healthy fats, an important macronutrient. Then, they may eat too many carbohydrates. While this type of diet wouldn’t cause an increase in cholesterol levels, it can lead to weight gain and put a lot of stress on the sugar system and diabetes system, according to Edmundowicz.
Crash dieting can similarly tax the cardiovascular system, and research has shown that a sudden and extreme shift in eating habits can lead to a deterioration in heart function.
“Going from one extreme to another really doesn’t help,” Edmundowicz said.
Social Isolation And Loneliness
Being isolated from others can also have a profound impact on our heart health, according to Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a board-certified cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
A recent study found that older women have a 8% higher risk of cardiovascular disease when living in social isolation and a 5% higher risk for cardiovascular disease when they’re living with loneliness. For people experiencing both social isolation and loneliness, the risk for heart disease grows to 27%.
Social isolation can also contribute to depression, and depression can lead to cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension, sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits, according to Edmundowicz.
“Social isolation is a biggie, and it does contribute to poor heart health,” Edmundowicz said.
Poor Dental Health
Dental issues — like gum and tooth decay — can increase the risk of bacterial infections in the bloodstream. According to Tadwalkar, it’s very easy for bacteria in the mouth to travel to the blood.
Recent research also found that regularly having your teeth cleaned is linked to better heart health outcomes.
Edmundowicz said it’s known that gingivitis and poor oral health causes an inflammatory state that could exasperate heart problems like high cholesterol or plaque rupture.
“Good oral hygiene is important. We can’t say 100% that brushing and flossing every day is going to prevent a heart attack, but it can increase one’s vulnerability if they have the other standard risk factors,” Edmundowicz said.
Certain Medications And Supplements
Some medications have been found to trigger cardiovascular issues. ADHD medications, for example, can ramp up the nervous system and cause increased heart rate and blood pressure. Drugs with a diuretic effect, such as the anti-hormonal medication Spironolactone, can decrease blood pressure, and in people with naturally low blood pressure, lead to symptoms like lightheadedness and dizziness.
Tadwalkar stressed that this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be concerned about their medications. However, those who are predisposed to blood pressure or heart rhythm issues may need to be careful with the dosing of their medications. Your physician should take your heart health history into consideration while figuring out the right dosage for you.
Supplements can also impact the heart, especially among people taking vitamins and herbal supplements they don’t actually need. Supplements can interact with prescribed medications and also have destructive effects on the heart, according to Tadwalkar. He recommends talking to a physician about supplements to determine if they may have cardiovascular effects.
Too Much Caffeine
Caffeinated coffee is generally safe and protective for the heart. Research suggests that drinking two cups of coffee per day provides the greatest cardiovascular benefits.
But too much coffee can have a negative effect because it “can speed up the heart, cause increased heart rate, cause contraction of the blood vessels and increased blood pressure, and certainly if you’re prone to rhythm disturbances of the heart, the caffeine at high doses can cause that,” Tadwalkar said.
Caffeine is considered safe until 300 to 400 milligrams, and after that, it can have a cascade of negative effects.
Research has also shown that filtered coffee is associated with better cholesterol levels than unfiltered coffee, such a French press. “Oftentimes we don’t link cholesterol with coffee, but filtered coffee has less bad cholesterol content than less filtered coffee,” Tadwalkar said. In general, the blacker the coffee, the healthier it is for the body.
When the body’s fight-or-flight system is chronically activated, it can cause inflammation in the body and prolonged release of stress hormones like adrenaline. These factors together can cause physiological changes in the body, including increases in blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, insulin resistance and electrical rhythm disturbances, according to Tadwalkar.
Chronic stress can also increase the risk of blood clotting throughout the body. If a clot forms in an artery that’s already narrow, it can cause a heart attack. “This is why people who have a lot of chronic stress, you may see, oftentimes, will end up with a heart attack,” Tadwalkar said.
Triggers of stress are all around us, and it can be hard to escape. Because those triggers aren’t going away, it’s crucial to learn how to effectively manage your stress, said Tadwalkar, who recommends stress-relieving activities like meditation, yoga, exercise and enjoyable hobbies.
Too Much Or Too Little Sleep
It’s not just about the quantity of sleep, but the quality, too. High-quality, regenerative sleep is crucial to maintaining a healthy heart. Lower-quality sleep is linked to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and atherosclerosis (a build up of plaque in the arteries).
“We want people to sleep well, and for the expected duration of time, to really protect their heart,” Tadwalkar said.