Heart attacks, what triggers them and is car pollution worse than cocaine?

A new paper has been produced which reviews causes of heart attacks covering various sources let me quote:

“Coffee, Sex, Smog Can All Trigger Heart Attack, Study Finds

Air pollution while stuck in traffic topped the list of potential heart attack triggers, with the researchers pegging 7.4% of heart attacks to roadway smog. Coffee was also linked to 5% of attacks, booze to another 5 percent, and pot smoking to just under 1 percent, the European researchers found. Among everyday activities, exerting yourself physically was linked to 6.2% of heart attacks, indulging in a heavy meal was estimated to trigger 2.7%, and sex was linked to 2.2%.

For example, air pollution is a minor trigger for heart attacks, but since so many people are exposed to smog, it triggers many more heart attacks than other more potent triggers, such as alcohol and cocaine.

The report is published in the Feb. 24 online edition of The Lancet. In terms of risk, the team found that air pollution increased a person’s risk of having a heart attack by just under 5%. In contrast, coffee increased the risk by 1.5 times, alcohol tripled the risk, and cocaine use increased the odds for heart attack 23–fold. However, because only a small number of people in the entire population are exposed to cocaine, while hundreds of millions are exposed to air pollution daily, air pollution was estimated to cause more heart attacks across the population than cocaine.

Even emotional states can sometimes trigger a heart attack, the team found. For example, negative emotions in general were linked to almost 4% of heart attacks while anger, specifically, was linked to just over 3 percent. Even “good” emotional states were tied to 2.4% of heart attacks.”

The glaring omission is second hand smoke (SHS),  even smoking cannabis, no doubt often mixed with tobacco is responsible for 1% of heart attacks. I was slightly disingenuous in the title as very few people ingest cocaine but many millions have no choice in breathing in traffic fumes.

The precise paper says.


Of the epidemiologic studies reviewed, 36 provided sufficient details to be considered. In the studied populations, the exposure prevalence for triggers in the relevant control time window ranged from 0·04% for cocaine use to 100% for air pollution. The reported odds ratios (OR) ranged from 1·05 to 23·7. Ranking triggers from the highest to the lowest OR resulted in the following order: use of cocaine, heavy meal, smoking of marijuana, negative emotions, physical exertion, positive emotions, anger, sexual activity, traffic exposure, respiratory infections, coffee consumption, air pollution (based on a difference of 30 μg/m3 in particulate matter with a diameter <10 μm [PM10]). Taking into account the OR and the prevalences of exposure, the highest PAF was estimated for traffic exposure (7·4%), followed by physical exertion (6·2%), alcohol (5·0%), coffee (5·0%), a difference of 30 μg/m3 in PM10 (4·8%), negative emotions (3·9%), anger (3·1%), heavy meal (2·7%), positive emotions (2·4%), sexual activity (2·2%), cocaine use (0·9%), marijuana smoking (0·8%) and respiratory infections (0·6%).”

However I can safely assume this will be not Professors Stanton Glantz and Jill Pell and Doctor Anna Gilmore’s next project.

Parliament does not want to be left out concluding:

The Government’s current 2007 Air Quality Strategy estimates that particulate matter
reduces life expectancy by around seven to eight months, averaged over the whole
population of the UK. This is an average and for individuals who are particularly sensitive
and are exposed to the poorest air quality the reduction in life expectancy could be as high
as 9 years.

This is interesting too that the expected gain in life expectancy for various measures.

Reduction in PM2.5  (car exhausts) 7-8 months

Elimination of traffic accidents 1-3 months

Passive smoking 2-3 months.

So air pollution can be worse for you than smoking and most of us cannot avoid going down the shops or using an ATM.

However I remain sceptical at some of the figures, but if they are true it may go partly to explain why working class people live noticeably less than middle class people as the working classes tend to live in more crowded city centres close to main roads.

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1 Response to Heart attacks, what triggers them and is car pollution worse than cocaine?

  1. Kim says:

    Given that we know all this, it is odd that our Government is so reluctant to actually do anything about reducing the problem at source. We really do need to adopt science based policies, to improve peoples quality of life.

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