Tags: study | hot weather | exposure | heart disease | inflammation | immune system

Study: Hot Weather Exposure Linked to Heart Disease

vendors sell water along the brooklyn bridge
Vendors sell water along the Brooklyn Bridge during a heat wave in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on July 27, 2023. (Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 21 March 2024 10:00 AM EDT

We know that too much sun exposure can be harmful to our health, potentially causing skin damage and cancer. But now, a new study found that the immune system reacts to high temperatures, causing dangerous inflammation that could lead to increased rates of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues.

Even short periods of exposure to high heat outdoors can trigger concerning reactions.

The research, presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle, and Cardiometabolic Health Conference in Chicago, found a link between hot weather and measures of the body's immune response, including levels of certain blood cells and indicators of inflammation.

According to the American Heart Association News the study is considered to be preliminary until full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Daniel W. Riggs, an epidemiologist and assistant professor in the division of environmental medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky, who led the study, said that previous research also linked temperature and inflammation.

In his research, Riggs and his colleagues found that even short-term exposure to high heat could trigger an inflammatory response that may impair adaptive immune response and increase our susceptibility to infectious triggers, environmental exposures, and accelerate the progression of cardiovascular disease.

Different types of white blood cells are part of the immune response and some of these release cytokines, proteins that help regulate inflammation. The researchers looked at blood samples from 624 people whose ages ranged from 20 to 70 years during the summers of 2018 and 2019. They looked at 11 types of cytokines and nine types of immune cells in each sample while assessing these measurements with the Universal Thermal Climate Index, a measure of how temperature, humidity, and wind speed affect the human body.

After the measurements were adjusted for body mass index, air pollution, and other lifestyle factors along with age, gender, race, and education, the results showed a link between hot weather and increased levels of certain cytokines. One of them, the TNF-alpha, is "one of the major inflammatory markers and plays an important role in cardiovascular disease," Riggs said.

Riggs added that at the same time, hot weather was associated with higher levels of some classes of white blood cells known as monocytes, which could be a sign that heat causes inflammation or prompts an immune response. Heat also caused other negative changes in the blood, such as lowering infection-fighting and blood-cleansing white blood cells known as B cells that could increase a person's susceptibility to infection. Riggs expressed his surprise at the number of cell changes with just short-term exposure to hot weather.

Dr. Judith Lichtman, chair of the department of chronic disease epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, said that "this is an important study" and is "opening up a new area of research." Understanding how heat affects our bodies will be important in dealing with issues such as climate change, she said, and help us come up with ways to mitigate the effect of environmental risks on our cardiac health. For example, planting more trees in urban settings may help moderate heat's effects on the immune system and inflammation.

"Our future research will focus on the long-term effects of exposure to extreme heat events on immune response and inflammation, and how this relates to the progression of heart disease." Riggs said. "The more you understand the mechanism, the more you can clearly work on prevention and treatment."

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We know that too much sun exposure can be harmful to our health, potentially causing skin damage and cancer.
study, hot weather, exposure, heart disease, inflammation, immune system
Thursday, 21 March 2024 10:00 AM
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