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Environmental toxins surround us every day, contributing to a nationwide increase in illness and chronic disease. Just recently, a new study examined the presence of one toxin in particular—arsenic—in U.S. well water and found that it raises heart health risks significantly.

Although most Americans rely on municipal (or public) water, roughly 15 million households (mainly in rural areas) use well water. This is important because while public water is required by the EPA to adhere to a 10 parts-per-billion safety standard for arsenic to avoid the harmful effects of chronic arsenic exposure, well water is not—and in some cases levels are more than a hundred times higher than the so-called “safe” standard.

For the study, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at a handful of Native American populations in areas of the Dakotas and southwestern United States whose primary source of water is well water. Their goal was to determine whether or not there was a link between arsenic in the water and a higher incidence of heart disease; as it turns out, there’s a big one.

After analyzing the urine samples of roughly 4,000 individuals, they discovered that the higher the level of arsenic in the urine, the higher the prevalence of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), stroke and heart attack. And in those with chronic arsenic exposure, heart disease rates were often doubled. Previous studies conducted outside the U.S. have had similar results.

Though not a heavy metal, researchers say, arsenic shares similar qualities and may cause damage to the cells and blood vessels around the heart. There is also evidence it may trigger an abnormal inflammation response in the body as well as affect healthy metabolism by disrupting the breakdown of fats, both of which can contribute to harmful plaque buildup.

As scientists continue to examine the link between arsenic exposure from well water and heart health risks, they are also looking into raising awareness in the medical community about the harmful effects of environmental toxins. One possible solution in this case is the use of water filters as well as chelation treatment (which helps remove stored metals from the body’s cells and tissues).

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We know from past research that fish-derived Omega-3 fatty acids provide a multitude of health benefits for the whole body—from supporting the heart, brain and nervous system to protecting our eyes and joints. Now, three new studies spotlight the role of Omega-3 fish oil in a healthy diet and why we should consume more of these healthy fats and fewer saturated and trans fats.

Fish Oil May Protect Against Diabetes
Past evidence has shown that fatty fish consumption can help protect against diabetes by having a positive effect on glucose metabolism. In a recent study conducted by scientists in Sweden, similar results were seen in the case of latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), which shares characteristics of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes including weight gain and insulin resistance. They found that one or more servings of fatty fish per week consumption was indeed associated with a reduced risk of LADA.

Omega-3 Fats Linked to Increased Brain Volume
Scientists no longer believe that age-related brain shrinkage and nerve cell death is irreversible. In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that older adults who consume high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids showed signs of new tissue development and an increase in gray matter—the areas of the brain involved in memory, emotions, muscle control, sensory perception and decision making.

Americans Still Eating Too Many Unhealthy Fats
Results of a new long-term study published last month in the Journal of the American Heart Association show that although consumption of saturated fats and trans fats have declined in the last three decades, Americans are still consuming far more unhealthy fats than experts recommend. The American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fats to one percent (or less) of total calories consumed and saturated fats to between five and six percent of total calories, while at the same time increasing the amount of healthy Omega-3 fats consumed from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring.

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