Why Startling Sounds and Noise Pollution May Be Bad For Your Heart
New research suggests that any unexpected noise, such as a blasting car horn or screaming alarm clock, may be bad for your heart health. Noise pollution can account for an increase in your body’s stress hormones and a lack of sleep.
The term “noise pollution” may be relatively new to you. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies noise pollution as “an underestimated threat” that can be responsible for: “sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, poorer work and school performance, hearing impairment.”
According to a review paper published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, noise pollution may increase our risk of coronary artery disease, hypertension, and heart failure over a period of time. The biggest reasons for this are two-fold according to the study’s authors:
1. Noise pollution can cause sleep disruption.
2. Noise pollution can cause a heightened stress response.
The study’s lead author, Thomas Münzel, told the Washington Post in an interview: “Ten years ago, people were saying that noise is just annoying, but now I think there’s considerable evidence that noise makes you sick, and one of the predominate diseases is cardiovascular disease.”
Increased stress hormones can take a toll on the body over time, increasing cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate. “If this persists for years, then you have a risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, and arrhythmia.” Münzel went on to add in his interview with the Washington Post that long-term noise pollution may also be linked to depression, anxiety disorders, and cognitive development in young children.
While the study did not prove that noise can cause heart disease, Dr. Münzel wants you to know that noise acts as a risk factor for heart disease just like obesity or high cholesterol. Steve Kopecky, a professor of medicine specializing in cardiovascular diseases at the Mayo Clinic, made a statement to the Washington Post regarding noise pollution: “I think it’s something we need to pay more attention to in terms of our everyday living.”
Fight or Flight
This is what happens when the stress response, a condition described as “fight or flight”, is activated. The body experiences a rush of survival mechanisms. A sequence of nerve cell firing occurs as chemicals including adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released into the bloodstream. Our respiration rate increases along with our heart rate as blood is channeled away from our digestive tract into our muscles and limbs. Our pupils dilate as our awareness is honed to a razor edge. We are now prepared to fight or flee the danger.
Our brain's logical reasoning mechanism is ignored when our body perceives an attack. That is why we are easily overstimulated in a world of rush hour traffic and pinging notifications. Unfortunately, the same mechanism with the ability to save our life can also become a threat in and of itself.
If we were to compare our body to a car, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) would be the gas pedal. The fuel flooding our system in this case would be the stress hormones. You wouldn't press the gas pedal of your car down to the floor and drive at 120 mph until you were out of gas, but that is what sympathetic overdrive does to our bodies. The accelerator becomes stuck in SNS, forcing us to face the world on hyper alert.
Does this silent plague affect you? Click here to read more about sympathetic overdrive.
There are precautions we can take on a daily basis in our home environment to protect our hearts. We can change our ringtones and alarm clocks to calmer tunes. We can turn the volume down on all of our electronic devices and mute our notifications. We can take note of sounds in our home environment that alarm us on a daily basis and take action to prevent them because it is there that we have control. In the outside world, we cannot prevent or control loud noises.
In conclusion, it is not surprising that many Americans today face an increased sensitivity to noise. Over time, noise pollution is wearing us down mentally and physically. This risk is heightened for people living in suburban areas, but we all must take whatever measures we can to protect our quiet time and space. The health of our heart and overall well-being may depend on it.
Check out these other great articles by EMaxHealth: How to Tell If Your Sympathetic Nervous System Is In Overdrive, 5 Most Important Keys To A Healthy Heart, and Why Grapes May Play A Role in Defeating Depression.