The fact that air pollution can affect your respiratory health is well documented. It can increase throat and lung irritation as well as worsen existing conditions like asthma. There is also the possibility that exposure can reduce lung function and heighten your chances of developing a respiratory condition. Research is now showing that changes in air pollution can affect your risk for cardiovascular disease as well.
Heart Disease and Air Pollution
How air pollution affect your cardiovascular system is not well understood. However, its effects have been documented in terms of the risk factors to heart disease. A study by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California found that exposure to car exhaust was associated with a thickness of the arteries, which can increase your risk for a heart attack.
A thickening of the arteries coupled with high blood pressure is a dangerous combination. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with strokes ranking third. These findings show that where you live may also play a role. This evidence is especially disturbing in light of the fact that air pollution, in essence, can be a factor in nearly half of the deaths in Western societies.
Documenting Responses to Air Pollution Levels
A study published in the May 16 issue of JAMA offers additional insights. The 2008 Beijing Olympics provided researchers with a unique opportunity to study the effects of changing air pollution levels on biomarkers for cardiovascular disease, such as inflammation and blood clot formation.
During this time frame, pollution levels increased and then returned to baseline levels to make a positive association between these scenarios. The researchers found that systolic blood pressure and systemic inflammation worsened during the period of increased air pollution levels during the Olympics. They also documented increases in heart rate among participants.
These findings show that the human body responds to the negative influences of air pollution even in the short term. While this may not be significant in healthy individuals, it can have harmful implications for others with pre-existing conditions or other risk factors. With the rise in industrialization worldwide, effects of air pollution may become more of a health issue on a global scale.