A bacon cheeseburger fetish topped with a couch potato mentality is a surefire recipe for a heart attack. But those obvious bad choices aren't the only things taking a toll on your ticker. Scientists discovering surprising new heart attack causes—including ones you may unknowingly be exposing yourself to every day. Learn about the new heart attack triggers and eliminate them from your daily routine!
Nonstick and stain-repelling chemicals are convenient, but in terms of health, they might not be worth it. Previously linked to infertility, high cholesterol, and ADHD, a September 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine also shows a connection between perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) chemicals and heart disease. Regardless of age, body mass, or the presence of diabetes or other diseases, researchers found that people with the highest PFOA levels in their blood were twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease compared with people with the lowest levels.
Avoid it: If you use nonstick pots, pans, and bakeware, replace them with uncoated stainless steel, made-in-America cast iron, or glass the minute you start seeing chips in the finish. More PFOA avoidance tactics? Stay away from fabrics, furniture, and carpeting advertised as "stain repellent," and eat fast food less—many fast-food containers contain PFOA-containing grease barriers.
Triclosan, an antibacterial soap and toothpaste chemical, is a well-known bad actor when it comes to health, thanks to its ties to thyroid disease and its role in creating hard-to-kill, antibiotic-resistant germs. You can now add increased heart disease risk to the dangers of antibacterial soap, thanks to new research suggesting it can damage heart and muscle tissue.
Avoid it: You get virtually no benefit for the risk you take when buying and using antibacterial products, since researchers have proven that washing with regular soap and water works just as well. To avoid triclosan, steer clear of anything advertised as "antibacterial," "antimicrobial," "germ-killing," "odor-free," or "odor-killing." When it comes to personal care products, check the label to make sure triclosan isn't on the ingredients list.
Sodium isn't canned foods' only setback. The notoriously toxic canned food chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, is a potent hormone disruptor tied to breast cancer, anger problems in female children, obesity, and infertility. And now, it's implicated in heart disease. A 2011 study published in the journal PLoS ONE found even small doses of BPA—ones we're commonly exposed to—could lead to dangerous heart arrhythmia, erratic beating that could cause sudden cardiac death. The BPA-heart disease link gained more traction just months later when researchers discovered that healthy people with higher BPA levels are more likely to develop heart disease down the line.
Avoid it: Limit canned food and instead opt for fresh or frozen. (Eden Foods is one brand that went BPA free and disclosed its plant-based BPA replacement; some companies have eliminated the BPA but are using a toxic alternative.) Also decline trivial cash receipts. Thermal receipts—the most popular kind in use today—are coated in BPA that's readily absorbed into your skin. Some No. 7 plastics also contain BPA, so choose glass or stainless steel food and drink containers, and never heat plastic in the microwave or dishwasher—higher temps accelerate leaching.
Traffic can kill, and not just via wrecks. Scientists have uncovered a connection between air pollution, traffic jams, and heart attack risk. German researchers interviewed heart attack survivors to try and pinpoint certain heart attack triggers. They found that people stuck in traffic—whether as a driver, passenger, bike rider, or passenger on public transportation—experienced a 3.2 times higher risk of having a heart attack compared to people who weren't trapped in a traffic jam. (Add it to the list of reasons to pitch to your boss to let you work from home.)
Avoid it: Check air-quality reports before hitting the road, keep your windows closed on the highway, and lobby your boss to allow more telecommuting to reduce your exposure to tailpipe pollution.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are supposed to protect your heart, not harm it. Syracuse University researchers churned up evidence suggesting you should be picky about what type of fish you eat, though. They found fish contaminated with high levels of mercury actually interfered with the body's response to stress, increasing the odds of heart disease. The mercury interferes with the body's natural cortisol hormone levels in a heart-unhealthy way.
Avoid it: In addition to tuna, fish with the highest levels of mercury are usually the big predatory species, such as swordfish, king mackerel, and any kind of shark. But watch out for recreational species, as well. The U.S. Geological Survey has found dangerously high mercury levels in some freshwater species, including trout and bass. For more tips on finding safer fish, read The Surprising Heart Attack Trigger in the Seafood Aisle and 12 Fish You Should Never Eat.