02/03/2011 08:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Surviving the Super Bowl

Even if you are watching the Super Bowl from your home, your health could get tackled by the stress of watching the big game.

According to medical research, sporting events can be as dangerous for spectators, including TV viewers, as they are for players -- especially if your team loses.

Death Rate Spikes After Losing The Big Game

Scientists at the Heart Institute of Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles studied the death rates in L.A. County during two weeks after various Super Bowl games.

When the L.A. Rams lost a heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980, the death rate from heart disease and stroke went up sharply, killing about 200 more Angelinos each day than in comparison weeks not related to the Super Bowl (1).

Stressed-Out Fans -- Hockey and Soccer Too

In a recent review, the Heart Institute researchers observed that similar findings had been reported among stressed-out fans after hockey games and soccer matches (2). They attributed increased spectator deaths to direct biochemical effects of stress and also to an increase in high-risk behaviors like smoking, drinking and overindulgence in high fat food.

Understanding these effects and how they put you at risk can help you plan a strategy for surviving the Super Bowl regardless of who wins or loses.

It's Not Just A Game

Acute mental stress causes the release of several hormones that are damaging to your heart and blood vessels:

  • CRF (corticotrophin releasing factor) causes inflammation that damages the walls of blood vessels

  • Cortisol raises blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Adrenaline and the sympathetic nervous system raise blood pressure, reduce blood flow by causing arteries to constrict, increase heart rate and the risk of an irregular heart beat (cardiac arrhythmia) and increase the tendency to form blood clots.
  • Tobacco smoke, alcohol and high fat meals each amplify one or more components of this adverse stress reaction.

    Taking These Simple Steps Can Boost Your Chances Of Surviving:

    If you take aspirin or a drug to control blood pressure or arrhythmia, make sure you don't skip your dose today. Aspirin inhibits blood clotting and when a person who takes aspirin every day skips a few doses, there's a rebound increase in blood clots that's greater than if he never used aspirin (3).

    A class of drugs called beta-blockers control blood pressure and heart rate by inhibiting the effect of adrenaline. Skipping beta-blockers can cause a rebound increase in sensitivity to adrenaline that raises cardiovascular mortality (4).

    This is not a good time to take NSAID pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen. Their use is associated with significant increases in heart attack and stroke (5,6).

    Get more info about NSAID's in my article: Why Medication Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

    Find other ways to relieve your headache: a warm bath, a massage, or even aspirin.

    If you're hosting a Super Bowl party, ask smokers to take their habit outdoors. Secondhand smoke has the same adverse effects on the heart as active smoking (7, 8).

    Drink alcohol in moderation only. More than one to two drinks a day may increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmia and can damage the heart muscle itself (9).

    Avoid cocaine and other stimulants, legal or illegal. They raise blood pressure, constrict blood vessels and increases blood clotting. And never mix alcohol with cocaine. Their combination substantially increases the toxicity of each drug, with potentially disastrous consequences (10).

    Laugh. Finding the humor in stressful events can de-fuse them, increase enjoyment and protect your heart and mind. (11, 12)

    Listen to music that makes you happy. Not only is it fun, it relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow. The type of music is not important, it is the positive emotions that the music produces that matter. (13)

    Choose your food wisely and flavor it with healthy spices. Sausage, steak, cheese and chips acutely increase inflammation and the tendency of your blood to clot. Fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts do the opposite (14)

    To learn more about eating healthy whole foods, check out my article: The Standard American Diet (SAD)

    Here are some quick and easy dishes to get you through Superbowl Sunday, from my book The Fat Resistance Diet.

    Fifteen Minute Chili

    With protein and fiber from the beans, lycopene from the tomatoes, and inflammation fighting turmeric and cumin, this dish is loaded with key nutrients.

    1 Fifteen Ounce Can Kidney Beans
    1 Fifteen Ounce Can Black Beans
    1 Fifteen Ounce Can Tomato Puree
    1 Onion, Diced
    3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
    1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley or Cilantro, Chopped
    1 Teaspoon Cumin
    1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
    1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
    1/2 Teaspoon Salt
    Freshly Ground Black Pepper

    Pour the beans into a strainer and give them a quick rinse with cold water. Put the onion and garlic into a large pot coated with olive oil. Cook for three minutes on medium heat, then add the beans. Add the spices and salt and cook for 2 minutes, letting the flavor get into the beans. Add the tomatoes and let it come to a boil, stirring often. Simmer for five minutes, then serve in bowls with a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Serves four.

    Asian Coleslaw

    Crunchy, tangy and just a little spicy, this is the healthy way to enjoy coleslaw.

    4 Cups Shredded Cabbage
    1/2 Cup Onion, Finely Sliced
    1/2 Cup Carrots, Finely Sliced
    Juice of 1/2 Lime
    2 Teaspoons Low Sodium Soy Sauce
    2 Teaspoons Sesame Oil
    1/4 Teaspoon Salt
    1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper

    In a large bowl toss cabbage, onion and carrots together. In a small bowl whisk soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and black pepper together. Pour dressing over vegetables and mix well. Serves four.

    Corn And Tomato Salsa

    1 Cup Corn
    10 Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, Halved
    2 Stalks Green Onion, Chopped
    Juice of 1/2 Lime
    1/4 Teaspoon Cumin
    Pinch of Salt
    Freshly Ground Black Pepper

    In a bowl mix together corn, tomato halves and green onion. In a cup combine lime juice, cumin, salt and black pepper. Pour the mixture over the salsa and stir to coat well. Serves two.

    Now I'd Like To Hear From You

    Do you do or take anything for stress?

    Does it work?

    What is your survival plan for the big game?

    Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

    Best Health,

    Leo Galland, M.D.

    Share the Health with your friends and family by forwarding this article to them, and sharing on Facebook.

    Leo Galland, M.D. is a board-certified internist, author and internationally recognized leader in integrated medicine. Dr. Galland is the founder of Pill Advised, a web application for learning about medications, supplements and food. Sign up for FREE to discover how your medications and vitamins interact. Watch his videos on YouTube and join the Pill Advised Facebook page.


    Recipes by Jonathan Galland, from The Fat Resistance Diet. Broadway Books Copyright © 2005 Leo Galland, Reprinted by permission of the author.

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    (2) Am J Med. 2010 Nov;123(11):972-7. "Sporting events affect spectators' cardiovascular mortality: it is not just a game." Leeka J, Schwartz BG, Kloner RA

    (3) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005 Feb 1;45(3):456-9. "Coronary syndromes following aspirin withdrawal: a special risk for late stent thrombosis." Ferrari E, Benhamou M, Cerboni P, Marcel B.

    (4) Eur J Vasc Endovasc Surg. 2007 Jan;33(1):13-9. "Increase of 1-year mortality after perioperative beta-blocker withdrawal in endovascular and vascular surgery patients." Hoeks SE, Scholte Op Reimer WJ, van Urk H, Jörning PJ, Boersma E, Simoons ML, Bax JJ, Poldermans D.

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    (7) Blood Press Monit. 2010 Oct;15(5):251-6. "Acute effects of passive smoking on blood pressure and heart rate in healthy females." Yarlioglues M, Kaya MG, Ardic I, Calapkorur B, Dogdu O, Akpek M, Ozdogru M, Kalay N, Dogan A, Ozdogru I, Oguzhan A.

    (8) JAMA. 2001 Jul 25;286(4):436-41. "Acute effects of passive smoking on the coronary circulation in healthy young adults." Otsuka R, Watanabe H, Hirata K, Tokai K, Muro T, Yoshiyama M, Takeuchi K, Yoshikawa J.

    (9) Herz. 2001 Aug;26(5):345-52. "Alcohol and the heart." Schoppet M, Maisch B.

    (10) J Med Toxicol. 2009 Sep;5(3):134-8. "Neurotoxic and cardiotoxic effects of cocaine and ethanol." Farooq MU, Bhatt A, Patel M.

    (11) Am J Cardiol. 2010 Sep 15;106(6):856-9. "Effect of mirthful laughter on vascular function." Sugawara J, Tarumi T, Tanaka H.

    (12) Psychosom Med. 2009 May;71(4):446-53. "Divergent effects of laughter and mental stress on arterial stiffness and central hemodynamics." Vlachopoulos C, Xaplanteris P, Alexopoulos N, Aznaouridis K, Vasiliadou C, Baou K, Stefanadi E, Stefanadis C.

    (13) Psychosom Med. 2010 May;72(4):354-6. "Divergent effects of joyful and anxiety-provoking music on endothelial vasoreactivity." Miller M, Mangano CC, Beach V, Kop WJ, Vogel RA.

    (14) Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6):634-40. "Diet and inflammation." Galland L.

    This information is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute (i) medical advice or counseling, (ii) the practice of medicine or the provision of health care diagnosis or treatment, (iii) or the creation of a physician--patient relationship. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your doctor promptly.