Sunday, April 29, 2012

Light can prevent a heart attack

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is a serious condition where heart cells die, reducing the pump function and thereby the blood supply to the body. The heart itself needs to be supplied by blood as well, and if the so-called coronary arteries are shut down, heart cells die because of a lack of oxygen. Risk factors include bad diet habits, high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol and all other things that can damage blood vessels. Therefore, it is highly advisable to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Scientists from the University of Colorado have discovered an additional factor to help prevent heart attack: light. Strong light, or even daylight, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks.

According to the scientists, light may be beneficial because it is linked to our daily clock: the circadian rhythm. Daylight sets our daily rhythm, which, biologically speaking, results in production of certain proteins that are involved with maintaining the body clock. The base of the clock is located in the brain, but the light's effect on protein production can also be found in the heart.

Period 2
During a heart attack, cells die because of a lack of oxygen. Cells need oxygen to create energy out of glucose, the main fuel of the body. When there is no oxygen, conversion of glucose is inefficient and gives very low energy yields. Still, it is a source of energy, and heart cells need to switch to the oxygen-deprived form of metabolism in the case of a heart attack. According to the scientists, a protein associated with the circadian rhythm, called 'period 2', helps cells to make the transition. Basically, that could reduce damage in the case of a heart attack.

When oxygen supply is cut off, it is of paramount importance to save as much tissue as possible. In conditions that threaten to kill the tissue because of lack of oxygen, light may prevent a full-blown heart attack by aiding in the metabolism because it produces period 2. Therefore, being out in daylight may prevent heart damage in patients suffering from atherosclerosis, or other diseases that involve damaged arteries. Naturally, additional studies are required to turn this into an actual therapy.

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