Getting a flu shot this season may not only greatly lower your risk of influenza this year, it may also lower your risk of heart disease, a new review from Canada suggests.
Results show that people who received the flu vaccine were 50 percent less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke, and 40 percent less likely to die from one, compared with people in the unvaccinated control group.
The flu vaccine could be an important way to maintain heart health and ward off strokes and heart attacks, the researchers said. They presented their findings at a cardiovascular disease research meeting Monday in Toronto.
In the study, Dr. Jacob Udell, a cardiologist at Women's College Hospital and the University of Toronto, and colleagues looked at four previous studies involving a total of more than 3,000 people whose average age was 60 — some with previous heart disease, and some without such conditions. Participants in all the studies were randomly assigned to receive a flu vaccine, no vaccine or a placebo injection, and were tracked for the following year.
The findings suggest that “perhaps that the flu vaccine is a heart vaccine,” Udell said.
While the reason for the link is not exactly clear, Udell said it may be that when people develop heart disease, some factor "tips them over the edge," such as plaque clogging arteries, or lower levels of oxygen as a result of the flu.
The flu vaccine may stop this "tipping" by preventing flu, or by actually breaking up plaque in the arteries. “Either one is very provocative, and it's important to drill down and get the answer,” Udell said.