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Nov 14, 2016

Inflammation Triggers Heart Problems From Air Pollution

Chronic inflammation of blood vessels leads to clogged arteries and increased cardiovascular risk.

Inflammation may be to blame for the negative health effects of air pollution, according to a recent study that linked exposure to fine particulate matter to inflammation of blood vessels.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study looked into how exactly air pollution increases heart risks. Multiple studies have linked fine particulate matter—a dangerous type of air pollution—to increased risk for heart disease, heart events and death. While there’s no question that air pollution has negative effects on heart health, how it does so is unknown.

To learn more, researchers collected blood samples from 72 healthy, young adults in Utah between January 2013 and April 2015. All participants were non-smokers with no exposure to second-hand smoke to help rule out negative effects of smoke on cardiovascular health. Blood samples were used to measure markers of inflammation and assess overall vascular health.

After monitoring air pollution during the study period, researchers found that increased exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with elevated markers of inflammation in the blood. Authors note that these types of inflammation can contribute to the development of heart disease and heart events like heart attack and stroke.

According to authors, findings prove that inflammation is an important link between air pollution and increased cardiovascular risk. This study demonstrates that exposure to air pollution is associated with inflammation. Research shows that chronic inflammation—even in small amounts—leads to clogged arteries and increased cardiovascular risk.

Of course, authors explain that additional research is needed to confirm findings. They also note that air pollution is just one of many factors that influences heart health, such as diet, exercise and weight. So while minimizing exposure to air pollution can help promote better health, controlling other risk factors is also key to reducing cardiovascular risk.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce my exposure to air pollutants?

  • Although it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to any air pollutants, you can check local air quality conditions on the news or weather and try to go outside when air quality conditions are best (often early morning or evening and in cooler temperatures). Also, avoid being outside around traffic-congested streets where pollution can be heavy.
  • How is inflammation linked to heart health?
  • Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection. Although it’s not proven that inflammation actually causes heart disease, research shows that many heart disease patients have heightened markers of inflammation. It’s possible that inflammation may be a sign of heart disease or a response to it, and further research is needed to better understand the role of inflammation on cardiovascular risk.


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