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Cardiovascular Connections

If there were such a thing as the heart bone, it would be smack in the middle of each line of the old spiritual, " Dem Bones." Once thought of as a solitary, aloof pump, the heart is now known to affect, and be affected by, all parts of the body.

TEETH AND GUMS: Infection and inflammation around the teeth and gums (periodontitis) may promote the development or progression of cardiovascular disease. It's also possible that periodontal disease and the resulting tooth loss may lead to poor dietary habits that, in turn, could contribute to heart disease risk. Bacteria from the mouth sometimes invade the slippery endocardium, the innermost layer of the heart's chambers. This infection, called endocarditis, can damage or destroy heart valves.

THYROID GLAND: The heart is exquisitely sensitive to signals from the thyroid gland. An overactive thyroid can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, and sometimes even chest pain. An underactive thyroid gland can cause an abnormally slow heart rate and contribute to atherosclerosis or heart failure. Drugs used to control abnormal heart rhythms, especially amiodarone (Cordarone), can throw the thyroid out of whack.

LIVER: As befitting the largest internal organ in the body, the liver has a multitude of functions. These range from making and secreting bile acids needed for digestion to breaking down drugs, alcohol, and toxins. The liver is also the central clearinghouse for making, storing, and processing fats and cholesterol. This role has direct implications for heart health.

SKIN: The skin can reflect problems in the heart and arteries; skin conditions such as psoriasis are linked to heart disease.

PANCREAS: Tucked behind the stomach, the pancreas makes enzymes that help the intestines digest food. It also makes insulin, a hormone needed to usher blood sugar into muscle cells, and glucagon, which tells the liver to release stored glucose when blood sugar drops too low. People with type 1 diabetes can't make any insulin; in those with type 2 diabetes, the body's tissues don't respond normally to insulin. The resulting high level of blood sugar damages arteries, nerves, and a host of other tissues. Diabetes is a leading contributor to heart disease. Keeping blood sugar and blood pressure in check are important efforts for people with diabetes.

BELLY FAT: Fat that accumulates in and around the abdomen is more dangerous for the heart than fat stored elsewhere.

SEX ORGANS: Hormones made by the ovaries and testes strongly influence heart health. Dwindling production of sex hormones late in life may contribute to heart disease. Sexual problems in men may also be a signal of hidden cardiovascular disease.

BONES: People with osteoporosis have an increased risk of heart disease, while heart disease increases the chances of developing osteoporosis.

JOINTS: Rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and related autoimmune disorders are chronic health problems caused by a misguided immune system. They also appear to increase the risk of heart disease. (This doesn't apply to wear-and-tear osteoarthritis.) It is possible that controlling the inflammation that comes with these joint problems may also ease heart disease, but for now the best way to control the extra heart risk is by paying attention to diet, weight, exercise, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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