You’re probably familiar with several ways to cut down on your risk of heart attack—eating heart healthy foods, exercising regularly, getting preventative screenings—but could your yearly flu shot be working overtime to also protect your heart? A recent study out of Australia suggests a potential correlation.
The study, which took place from 2008-2010, sought to “investigate whether influenza is a significant and unrecognised [sic] underlying participant of AMI (acute myocardial infarction).” While the study determined that being infected with the flu virus was not a significant predictor of having a heart attack, the results suggested the flu vaccine could be “significantly protective” against heart attacks, particularly for identified risk patients between 50-64.
In fact, getting your yearly flu shot might lead to a 45% reduced risk.
However, don’t start lining up at the clinic just yet (unless you’re just looking to prevent the flu—then go right ahead!) The research design of the study makes the results far from conclusive. Rather than studying two similar groups of participants with identifiable controls, the two groups contained numerous variables. Of the 559 participants, nearly half had been previously hospitalized for cardiovascular disease, while the other half had not. Consistencies in gender, age, and family history weren’t considered and the heart attack patients were, on average, much younger than the participants who had no previous history of heart attacks.
Ultimately, the study recommends further research into the benefits of the influenza vaccine in relation to cardiovascular events, as many remain skeptical of the data. Yet, it might not be as much of a reach as originally perceived. A report in HealthDay quotes cardiologist Dr. Michael Blaha, who points out that “all kinds” of infections can increase risks and says, “It does seem reasonable to me that curbing influenza infections may have a positive effect on reducing heart attacks.” Dr. Blaha goes on to recommend that heart disease patients make their annual flu shot a priority.
Regardless of whether your aim is to prevent a heart attack, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine as “the single best way to protect against the flu”—which is plenty worth preventing all on its own. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for future research on this study’s potentially groundbreaking claim.