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Putting Your Heart Into The Super Bowl

Sports fans may literally live and die on their team’s victories, according to researchers who examined cardiac mortality rates after the home team won and lost the Super Bowl.

Total and cardiac mortality rates in Los Angeles County increased after the football team’s 1980 Super Bowl loss but overall mortality fell after the 1984 the team’s Super Bowl win, researchers concluded from a review of death certificates reported in Clinical Cardiology.

First, authors gave a clinical review. Stress causes a cardiac cascade. The sympathetic nervous system increases and releases catecholamines. This triggers a rise in heart rate and blood pressure, and ventricular contractility increases oxygen demand, causing blood the sheer against and fracture atherosclerotic plaque, the authors explained. Stimulation of alpha receptors in the vasculature further constrict coronary vessels, increasing oxygen demand while limiting oxygen supply to the heart.

Next, they gave a sporting review. Los Angeles has played twice in the Super Bowl, the first time losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers (who play in this Sunday’s Super Bowl, incidentally) in 1980. The Los Angeles Rams, as they were known then, were a long-time hometown team and played the game in nearby Pasadena, Calif. “This game was high intensity,” wrote the authors, “with seven lead changes before Los Angeles lost a fourth-quarter lead and the game.”

Later, a new football franchise arrived in town, the Los Angeles Raiders. In 1984 the Los Angeles Raiders traveled to Tampa, Fla. to beat the Washington Redskins in a more mundane affair.

Now, the review of findings. Researchers combed death certificates based on age, race and sex to compare mortality rates for Super Bowl-related days with non-Super Bowl days and created regression models predicting daily death rates per 100,000.

Researchers reviewed death certificates for the six weeks surrounding the Super Bowls from 1980 to 1988. Data included total number of deaths and cardiac-related deaths. Figures were broken down by sex, race and age less than or greater than 65 years for each of the two Super Bowls. To remove the impact of the known peak in total and cardiac death rates around the winter holidays, all analyses excluded data from Jan. 1 to Jan. 14.

After the Super Bowl loss, daily death rates increased for both men and women in Los Angeles County. Seniors had a larger absolute increase in all cause mortality during the Super Bowl loss days compared with the younger population, “with significant interaction between age and Super Bowl loss-variable for all-cause and cardiac-related mortality,” the authors wrote. Whites and Hispanics had increased death rates on Super Bowl loss days.

“Based on our linear regression analysis, our study suggested that Los Angeles’ 1980 Super Bowl loss increased total and cardiac deaths in both men and women and triggered more deaths in older patients compared with younger patients,” the authors concluded. “Conversely, the 1984 Super Bowl win showed a trend for reduction of death rates, slightly better in older than younger patients and in women more than men.”

Super Bowl foodInterestingly, the authors didn’t consider one important co-variable: Super Bowl food. It’s been suggested that big holiday dinners may also cause a spike in heart attacks, so it stands to reason that Super Bowl menus would play at least some part.

This year’s Super Bowl pits the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Green Bay Packers. Neither team has a rich history of fruits and vegetables, and the likely game-day offerings will likely feature bratwurst and cheese or golabki and pierogies.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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