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5 New Things to Know About Heart Health

Researchers unveil latest (and surprising) findings at annual cardiology conference

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From the benefits of coffee to the dangers of noise pollution, researchers seem to be leaving no stone unturned when it comes to heart health. The American College of Cardiology hosted its annual scientific session April 2-4 in Washington, D.C., where researchers from around the globe presented their latest findings. Here are five to ponder.

1. Benefits of coffee

Although it may sound counterintuitive, two or three cups of coffee a day may be good for your heart.

Peter M. Kistler, M.D., professor and head of arrhythmia research at the Alfred Hospital and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues studied data from the UK BioBank, a large-scale prospective database with health information from over half a million people who were followed for at least 10 years, to determine that coffee drinking either did no harm or was associated with benefits to heart health.

“Because coffee can quicken heart rate, some people worry that drinking it could trigger or worsen certain heart issues,” Kistler said in a statement. “But our data suggest that daily coffee intake shouldn’t be discouraged, but rather included as a part of a healthy diet for people with and without heart disease.”


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Among 382,535 individuals without known heart disease, the researchers found having two or three cups of coffee a day was associated with a 10 to 15 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, heart failure or a heart rhythm problem, or of dying for any reason during a decade follow-up. Among 34,279 individuals who had some form of cardiovascular disease at baseline, drinking two or three cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of dying. For example, those with atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, who drank a cup of coffee daily were nearly 20 percent less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers during a decade follow-up.​ ​

2. What your voice may reveal

Emerging voice analysis technology may soon help doctors predict the likelihood of a patient’s suffering heart problems.

Jaskanwal Deep Singh Sara, M.D., a cardiology fellow at the Mayo Clinic, and other researchers used artificial intelligence to develop a computer algorithm that can analyze more than 80 features of voice recordings (such as pitch, amplitude and cadence) to establish a “voice biomarker” for cardiovascular problems. Tested on 108 volunteers (who had been referred to the clinic for a coronary angiogram), the algorithm gave a third a “high” score and two-thirds a “low” score. Participants were tracked for two years. Of those with a high voice biomarker score, 58.3 percent visited the hospital for chest pain or suffered acute coronary syndrome (a type of major heart problem that includes heart attacks) compared with 30.6 percent of those with a low score.

“We’re not suggesting that voice analysis technology would replace doctors or replace existing methods of health care delivery, but we think there’s a huge opportunity for voice technology to act as an adjunct to existing strategies. Providing a voice sample is very intuitive and even enjoyable for patients, and it could become a scalable means for us to enhance patient management,” Sara said in a statement.​ ​

3. Smart watches

Smart watches that monitor your heartbeat during exercise may not be as accurate for individuals with darker skin tones, according to Daniel Koerber, M.D., resident physician at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

Koerber and his research colleagues found that in four of 10 previously published studies on heart data collected by smart watches or other wearable devices, measurements were significantly less accurate in darker-skinned individuals compared with either lighter-skinned individuals or measurements from validated devices, such as chest strap monitors or electrocardiograms.

“People need to be aware that there are some limitations for people with darker skin tones when using these devices, and the results should be taken with a grain of salt,” Koerber said in a statement. “Algorithms are often developed in homogeneous white populations, which may lead to results that are not as generalizable as we would like. Ongoing research and development of these devices should emphasize the inclusion of populations of all skin tones so that the developed algorithms can best accommodate for variations in innate skin light absorption.”​ ​

4. Danger of noise pollution

Your risk of suffering a heart attack appears to be greater if you live in a noisy neighborhood, according to Abel E. Moreyra, M.D., professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Moreyra and his colleagues determined there was a 72 percent higher rate of heart attack for people living in neighborhoods with high levels of noise from trains, planes, trucks, buses, automobiles and other vehicles, based on an analysis of nearly 16,000 New Jersey residents hospitalized for a heart attack in 2018 and data on average daily noise levels from the state’s Bureau of Transportation.

The researchers determined that in noisy areas there were 3,336 heart attacks per 100,000 residents compared with 1,938 heart attacks per 100,000 in quieter areas. Overall, they calculate that high noise exposure accounted for about 1 in 20 heart attacks in New Jersey.

“As cardiologists, we are used to thinking about many traditional risk factors, such as smoking, hypertension or diabetes,” Moreyra said in a statement. “This study and others suggest maybe we should start thinking about air pollution and noise pollution as additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”​ ​

5. Who benefits more from exercise?

Physical activity appears to be especially important for individuals with depression or anxiety, according to Hadil Zureigat, M.D., a postdoctoral clinical research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital.

An analysis of health records of more than 50,000 patients in the Massachusetts General Brigham Biobank database found that people who get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (as recommended by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association) are 17 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or other adverse cardiovascular event than those who don’t meet the minimum recommendation. Moreover, the analysis found that among people with anxiety or depression the risk was 22 percent lower, compared with just a 10 percent risk reduction among people free of anxiety or depression.

“This is not to suggest that exercise is only effective in those with depression or anxiety, but we found that these patients seem to derive a greater cardiovascular benefit from physical activity,” Zureigat said in a statement.​

Peter Urban is a contributing writer and editor who focuses on health news. Urban spent two decades working as a correspondent in Washington, D.C., including a stint as Washington bureau chief for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and for daily newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, California and Arkansas, His freelance work has appeared in Scientific American, Bloomberg Government and CTNewsJunkie.com.

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