How are bones and the heart connected? – British Heart Foundation

Posted: November 30, 2020 at 6:56 pm

There are 206 bones in the human body ranging in size from the tiniest, found in your ear, to the largest, in your thigh.

We have just one heart roughly the size of your fist in our chest and continuously pumping about eight pints of blood.

206 bones and only one heart. But how are the two connected? Does the quality of your bones affect your heart?

BHF-funded researcher Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh and her team at Queen Mary University of London recently discovered that poor bone quality is in fact linked to poor heart health.

In this study, they used the UK Biobank the world's largest biomedical database to study the link between osteoporosis and cardiovascular health. Osteoporosis affects over 3 million people in the UK and results in brittle and weak bones that are more likely to break.

We know that osteoporosis and heart disease share a number of risk factors such as increasing age, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking but are these risk factors all they share? Is there something we havent uncovered yet? This is what Dr Raisi-Estabragh and the team of researchers set out to find.

They discovered that lower bone density (the amount of bone mineral in bone tissue) is linked to stiffer arteries (a sign of poor heart health). They also found that people with poor bone quality have a higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease when the arteries supplying the heart with blood get clogged up with fatty deposits.

With this wealth of information available, the next step will be to identify more of the factors that leave people at high risk of each disease and inform public health policy aimed at improving both bone and heart health.

At the University of Manchester, BHF-funded researcher Dr John Bowes is looking at why coronary heart disease is more common in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease when your immune system (which usually fights infection) attacks the cells that line your joints by mistake, making the joints swollen, stiff and painful. Over time, this can damage the joints, cartilage and nearby bone.

We know that coronary heart disease causes around half of the early deaths of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, however, there is no effective method to measure the risk of heart disease in people with arthritis, because the risk factors are different in these people. In fact, screening tools based on the usual risk factors (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking) are not reliable in predicting the risk of heart disease in people with arthritis.

In comes Dr John Bowes and his team their aim is to create a tool that does just that. First, they will use genetic data and statistical analyses to understand why these two diseases frequently occur together. Based on these results, an accurate tool to identify which people with rheumatoid arthritis are most at risk of coronary heart disease could then be developed.

Your heart is a remarkable organ. It beats about 60 to 100 times every minute, pumping blood and oxygen all around your body with each heartbeat. But theres more to it than that. Your heart also produces a small number of hormones chemical messengers released into the blood and carried to target organs.

BHF-funded researcher Professor Svetlana Reilly and her team at the University of Oxford have recently discovered a new heart hormone calcitonin previously thought to only be produced by the thyroid gland. Published in Nature, the research revealed that cells in the atria (the top chambers of the heart) produce more calcitonin than cells in the thyroid.

It has long been known that calcitonins role in our bodies is to help regulate bone density. However, the Oxford researchers found that calcitonin also plays an important role in reducing atrial scarring. Scarring disrupts the electrical impulses travelling through the atria, which in turn causes the heart to beat in an irregular manner this is known as atrial fibrillation(AF). People with AF may experience dizziness, palpitations, shortness of breath, and tiredness. They are also more at risk of having a stroke.

Around 1.4 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with AF. For most people, this is a shock and emotionally challenging but new research brings new hope. Professor Reilly and her team are making great strides in this area and are hopeful that this bone and heart hormone could lead to new therapies to control or prevent this potentially devastating condition.

Another extraordinary part of the human body is bone marrow the spongy tissue deep inside some of your bones, such as your hip and thigh bones. Bone marrow is essential in repairing tissue damage because it contains stem cells, which can turn into any type of cell in the body, including blood cells.

At the University of Bristol, BHF-funded researcher Professor Paolo Madeddu is studying how diabetescauses damage to bone marrow. We know that diabetes can gradually damage blood vessels, which increases the risk of heart and circulatory diseases. This blood vessel damage impairs blood flow to bone marrow, which in turn decreases the amount of stem cells produced by bone marrow and with it the bodys ability to repair itself.

Using powerful microscopes and scanning machines, the researchers are now investigating the blood circulatory system of bone marrow in around 150 people with diabetes. They hope to find new ways to protect cells in the bone marrow from the damage caused by diabetes.

Maintaining healthy blood vessels and normal bone marrow function is important for people with diabetes, as this could help prevent heart and circulatory diseases in these people diseases which still kill one in four in the UK, and still cause heartbreak in every family.

Help us power our life saving research

We can all agree that 2020 has been a year like no other, but the fact that there are researchers out there using a Nobel Prize-winning discovery to help us beat heartbreak forever to help us live in a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases is exactly what we all needed to know right now.

Read more BHF research blogs

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How are bones and the heart connected? - British Heart Foundation

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