Unless you live under a rock or are in complete denial, you cannot help but notice the uptick of stories on the news or social media surrounding young people dying suddenly. Whether on a soccer field or in their sleep, young people are losing their lives to cardiovascular-related problems.
The unsettling fact is that heart attacks, once thought to primarily affect older individuals, are increasingly striking our younger population. As we confront the deterioration of our youth’s health, examining this unsettling pattern is essential.
The current state of affairs
It’s a troubling landscape we face as heart attacks in young individuals relentlessly surge. Research uncovers a startling reality: heart attacks in adults aged 35-54 have risen sharply in the past twenty years. From 1995 to 2014, hospitalizations in this age group climbed nearly 2% annually, emphasizing the gravity of this public health calamity. Additional evidence points to the fact that of patients under 50 who suffer a heart attack, 1 in 5 is 40 years old or younger.
Recent investigations add to our unease, as scientists have discovered a staggering 30% increase in heart attacks among the 25 to 44 age bracket during the initial two years of the COVID-19 pandemic – a jump beyond expectations.
It’s not only heart attacks that are on the rise. The risk of developing other heart conditions is also going up. For example, a February 2022 study found a substantial increase in the risk of developing a heart condition after having Covid-19.
Why are younger people having heart attacks?
Many factors converge to weave the tapestry of deteriorating health we witness today, as younger individuals increasingly face heart attacks. While many health experts want to blame this concerning trend on the COVID-19 “epidemic,” there are multiple reasons why heart attacks are rising in this younger generation.
From lifestyle choices to emotional well-being and environmental influences, the following elements collectively play a role in this worrying trend.
● Poor diet
The wholesome era of home-cooked meals seems like a distant memory, as today’s fast-paced world has given rise to quick-fix convenience foods laden with unhealthy fats, sugars, and additives. A reliance on fast food and processed meals is becoming increasingly common among the younger crowd.
Additionally, water and coffee are often overshadowed by the preference for highly caffeinated “energy” drinks. These unhealthy and dangerous beverages have surfaced in numerous case reports, illustrating their potential connection with cardiovascular issues such as arrhythmias, heart failure, and heart attacks.
Interestingly, even though numerous Americans struggle with excess weight, a considerable portion of them are simultaneously malnourished. A majority of diets fall short of providing the essential vitamins and minerals necessary for maintaining a healthy heart.
● Increased electronic use
Often, experts attribute the rise in heart attacks to the COVID virus, yet few pause to contemplate the broader impact of this time period on people’s lives.
With technology’s ever-growing influence, younger generations increasingly find themselves immersed in sedentary activities, such as using electronic devices and watching television. Imagination that was once gained from reading books is replaced with “quick fixes” of dopamine as people scroll through social media and the internet.
Furthermore, the omnipresence of these devices exposes them to greater amounts of blue light emanating from screens, a side effect of our modern, connected lifestyles. While few studies have examined the actual impact that electronics and blue light have on health, it’s safe to say that increased device use has a negative impact on cardiovascular health. One recent study found that exposure to artificial light correlated with a 33 percent increase in obesity in women.
● Sedentary lifestyles
For two long years, individuals found themselves constrained within their homes, urged to maintain a six-foot distance from one another when they dared to venture outside. Recreational activities were curtailed, sports events canceled, and even gyms shuttered their doors.
This vibrant, younger generation, typically teeming with energy and enthusiasm, was coaxed into adopting a lifestyle akin to retirement, confined indoors and shunning the very activities that could bolster their health. This imposed physical inactivity exacerbated the obesity epidemic, fueling high blood pressure and, in turn, heightening the risk of heart attacks.
● Lack of sunlight
Research indicates that a surprising 93 percent of Americans’ time is spent indoors, whether within buildings or vehicles. On the rare occasions they step outside, they often lather up with sunscreen to further “protect” themselves from the sun.
They fail to realize that the sun’s rays are healing and that a lack of sunlight exposure can result in deficiencies in essential compounds such as vitamin D and nitric oxide. Furthermore, sunlight is vital for regulating our internal body clocks, or circadian rhythms; any disturbance to these natural patterns can adversely impact heart health.
● Poor sleep
The growing prevalence of insufficient sleep is striking, particularly among the younger crowd who are reliant on their phones for everyday tasks, including setting alarms. Recent surveys have found that 93 percent of younger adults report losing sleep at night due to being online, a problem that appears to decrease with age.
Unfortunately, blue light from screens disrupts melatonin production, the hormone controlling our sleep-wake cycles. As a result, it causes disturbed sleep and ongoing sleep deprivation.
Lack of adequate sleep is connected to various health issues, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes- all major risk factors for heart attacks. Moreover, inadequate restorative sleep can elevate stress levels and inflammation, compounding cardiovascular risk.
● Depression and anxiety
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a 25 percent increase in depression and anxiety worldwide following the first year of COVID. Loneliness and social isolation triggered a mental health pandemic. It’s quite true that loneliness can break a heart.
The connection between mental health hurdles and a heightened risk of heart troubles is unmistakable, particularly with depression and anxiety in the mix. Those grappling with depression face an uphill battle when it comes to making healthy choices, which can lead to a cascade of added risks.
Anxiety also contributes to an increased risk of heart attack. Persistent anxiety subjects the body to ongoing stress, prompting the release of stress hormones that raise blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, this prolonged state of arousal can contribute to the onset of heart disease.
● Substance abuse
Substance abuse is a leading risk factor for heart attacks in younger people. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and illicit drugs result in increased blood pressure, damage to blood vessels, and blood clot development, collectively increasing the likelihood of a heart attack.
Alarmingly, the younger generation is witnessing a surge in vaping. Research reveals that e-cigarette use boosts the risk of heart attacks by a staggering 56 percent. Addressing these harmful habits is essential to mitigating cardiovascular risks and fostering healthier lifestyles among our youth.
● Toxin exposure
Today’s younger generations confront an unprecedented level of exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals. Polluted air and water, alongside chemicals present in food packaging and household items, lead to the buildup of these harmful substances within the body.
The body recognizes toxins as foreign, which provokes inflammation, oxidative stress, and cardiovascular system damage. This heightened exposure to toxins and chemicals is associated with an elevated risk of heart attacks among the youth.
● High Lipoprotein (a) levels
Younger individuals might not worry much about their cholesterol levels. However, there is a lipid marker that is imperative to understand, especially for younger folks.
Lipoprotein (a), or Lp(a) for short, is a sticky molecule made in the liver. Among various lipid markers, Lp(a) stands out as one of the most crucial predictors of cardiovascular health. Unlike other lipoproteins, Lp(a) is genetically inherited, leading to approximately 25% of individuals having elevated concentrations.
High Lp(a) levels significantly amplify the risk of cardiovascular issues, making it a more accurate indicator of heart attack risk than total cholesterol, LDL, or HDL. Although the complete workings of Lp(a) remain somewhat elusive, it’s known to adhere to the arterial wall excessively, attracting white blood cells and boosting inflammation. Moreover, it’s been shown to increase the risk of blood clots, which then may prompt a heart attack.
Because high Lp(a) levels are inherited from parents, it’s helpful to identify this risk factor early on. Bear in mind, though, that high Lp(a) levels alone don’t spell trouble. They need some catalysts, like poor diet, excessive stress, or environmental toxins, to become a real issue. Without these “triggering events,” a person with high Lp(a) levels can still maintain a healthy state. The key is carefully monitoring Lp(a) levels to ensure that lifestyle modifications keep Lp(a) levels in check.
Over recent decades, we’ve witnessed a notable surge in the number of vaccines given to kids. In times gone by, the suggested vaccine schedule focused on a more modest lineup of diseases, with little ones getting about 10-12 injections by the time they turned two and 15-18 injections by their 18th birthday.
Today, the vaccine schedule has expanded to cover many more diseases. Consequently, children are now recommended to receive approximately 30 injections by age 2 and around 55-65 injections by age 18, depending on specific vaccines and booster shots.
In spite of the significant rise in vaccinations, research on the combined effects of these immunizations remains limited. Consequently, we lack a thorough understanding of the potential impact on heart health when these vaccines are given together.
Recent studies have found that introducing the Covid vaccine significantly increased heart-related conditions, such as myocarditis, especially among younger males.
The complex interplay of factors contributing to heart attacks in younger generations demands urgent consideration and a comprehensive approach to prevention. Addressing lifestyle choices, mental well-being, and environmental factors is essential in our pursuit to reverse this growing and worrisome trend.
As the timeless adage reminds us, “It’s never too early to start thinking about your heart.” To set you on the right path, consider a free 20-minute health strategy call with an expert heart health coach at NHD and map out the route to your 100 year heart.