Air Pollution, Shown to Increase Heart Disease Risk

We may have the ability to add air pollution to the list of elements of modern life that raise heart disease risk.

For some time, we’ve understood that air quality can make asthma and other lung disorders, like emphysema, worse. The annual medical cost of the atmosphere we breath impact on these disorders is quantified in the tens of millions of dollars.

What we’re now finding is that this may also hasten the progression of heart disease and atherosclerosis. Several medical studies have indicated a connection between heart disease and air pollution in individuals who are in danger due to diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. On the other hand, the mechanism by which the risk of heart disease increased was unknown – until now.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from New York University School of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the University of Michigan investigated the effects of diet and air pollution on a particular breed of mouse. They found that even modest quantities in conjunction with a high fat diet, resulted in a significantly quicker buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries. The buildup of plaque is associated with increased danger of heart attack, stroke and departure.

The researchers found that pollution, together with a high fat diet, additionally increased vasoconstriction (spasm of the arteries), reducing the flow of blood to the heart and brain. Inflammation also plays an important part in the creation of plaque, as well as amplifies the inflammatory reaction by 2.6 times.

Interestingly a high fat diet nor air pollution raised vasoconstriction or inflammation. But even a modest quantity of air pollution, when joined with a high fat diet, resulted in major plaque formation.

These data suggest that air pollution has a much greater effect on well-being than we recognized. Heart disease, a leading cause of sickness and death in both women and men, may be aggravated by air pollution from cars and industry.

There are methods to lower your risk of heart disease. Reducing the overall number of fat in the diet is significant. Raising particular omega 3 fats (docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic fats) by eating more fish and fish oil, and eating more fruits and vegetables may also help. Weight loss and routine exercise are also valuable for preventing diabetes and high blood pressure.

I also support actions to reduce pollution, including more fuel efficient automobiles and cleaner industrial emission standards. For instance, a car made in France by the MIDI motor business operates on compressed air, takes five passengers, runs for about 180 miles/tank of atmosphere, has a top rate of about 60 miles per hour and is “refueled” with a built in air compressor. Why can not we do that in the US?

The greatest method to treat heart disease would be to prevent it. Clean air, it appears, is essential.