Jo Waters June 27, 2017

We all know smoking harms the lungs and drinking alcohol can damage the liver – but did you know that both can also affect your heart?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) remains the number one killer in the UK, responsible for 73,000 deaths each year, and it's one of the lesser-known effects of cigarettes and boozing.

The effects of smoking on cardiac health

More than one in five heart disease deaths are caused directly by smoking. In fact, smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to those who have never smoked. One study found that even women who are light to moderate smokers are almost twice as likely to die from sudden cardiac death than non-smokers.

Smoking affects your heart in several ways. The chemicals in tobacco damage the lining in your arteries. This leads to a build-up of fatty material which causes them to be narrow and constrict, putting you at increased risk of angina, heart attack, arrhythmias or stroke.

Smoking stimulates the production of adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster whilst also raising blood pressure. Other effects of smoking include the reduction of oxygen in your body and the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.

Why quit?

After just one year, the risk of heart disease is about half that of a smoker, and after 15 years your risk of heart attack is the same as someone who's never smoked.

Try these practical tips to help you break your nicotine addiction:

  • Start a quitting diary: Just writing down your thoughts and feelings can help strengthen your resolve. Alternatively, join an online forum where you can chat anonymously with others.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet: A healthy diet will make you feel better and prevent you from gaining weight after quitting. A study, published by Clinical Nutrition, found that diet quality was significantly poorer in heavy smokers than those who had never smoked.
  • Get moving: One review found that 17 out of 18 trials demonstrated the effectiveness of physical activity in reducing nicotine cravings.
  • Opt for some support: You're up to four times more likely to quit with expert help and advice. Speak to your GP, who'll provide you with advice on your local stop smoking service. You can also call the NHS Quitline for help on 0300 123 1044 or chat to an .

The effects of alcohol on cardiac health

Drinking too much booze can have serious consequences and increases the likelihood of high blood pressure, one of the major risk factors for heart attacks and stroke.

It can also weaken your heart muscle so it's unable to pump enough blood around your body, and can affect your heart rhythm, a condition known as arrhythmia.

Ways to cut your drinking

To keep health risks low, men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week. Here are some ways to cut down.

  • Drink within safe limits: Spread units over three days or more if you know you drink up to 14 units a week. The charity Drinkaware has a free smartphone app to track what you're drinking.
  • Enjoy alcohol-free nights: Cutting down on alcohol doesn't mean becoming a hermit. Aim to have several alcohol-free nights every week and spend time doing the things you enjoy rather than focusing on giving something up.
  • Pace yourself: Sip your drink slowly and alternate with a glass of water, which is also a great way to keep hydrated. Opting for a smaller glass can also help.
  • Just drink with a meal: Try not to drink on an empty stomach. Food slows down the rate alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Get support: Speak to your GP, who may be able to refer you to local alcohol support services.

Supplements

Supplements that can support heart health include:

  • Lycopene: One study found taking a lycopene supplement every day for two months widened blood vessels by 53 per cent. This was due to improved functioning of the inner lining of blood vessels.
  • Omega 3: These fatty acids benefit the hearts of both healthy people and those at high risk of cardiovascular disease. The European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences said omega 3 fatty acids have shown significant reductions in the risk of sudden death caused by cardiac arrhythmias and all-cause mortality in patients with heart disease, as well as treat high blood pressure.
  • Magnesium: This mineral plays many essential roles in the body, including blood pressure control – and a deficiency has been found as a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
  • Circulease: Made from the gel that surrounds tomato pips Circulease's main ingredient Fruitflow® supports healthy blood flow, and is the first European Food Safety Authority approved natural cardio-protective ingredient.
  • References

    1. https://heartuk.org.uk/press/press-kit/key-facts-figures
    2. https://heartuk.org.uk/health-and-high-cholesterol/healthy-lifestyle/stop-smoking
    3. https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/risk-factors/smoking
    4. http://circep.ahajournals.org/content/early/2012/11/16/CIRCEP.112.975219
    5. https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/risk-factors/smoking
    6. https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/risk-factors/smoking
    7. https://heartuk.org.uk/health-and-high-cholesterol/healthy-lifestyle/stop-smoking
    8. https://heartuk.org.uk/health-and-high-cholesterol/healthy-lifestyle/stop-smoking
    9. https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree/why-quit/what-happens-when-you-quit
    10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27595637
    11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26852188
    12. https://www.quitwithhelp.co.uk/quit-smoking-plan
    13. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/diseases/alcohol-and-heart-disease/
    14. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/arrhythmia/Pages/arrhythmia.aspx

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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