Researchers have uncovered the role of low-level air pollution on heart health. Studies have shown that EPA standards are not low enough to protect our blood vessels from inflammation leading to heart disease and stroke. CRP blood test levels measure inflammation in the body, and can be controlled with cholesterol lowering medicines, or statins. Elevated CRP levels promote heart attacks.
Taking things a bit further, newer research shows that we can’t seem to escape damage to blood vessels even in the home. Community monitoring stations fall short of measuring the total amount of individual exposure to pollutants that can increase our risk of heart disease.
According to study co-author, Robert Bard, cardiologists need to develop a greater awareness that pollution is contributing to heart disease. The amount of exposure experienced by 65 study participants fitted with pollution-monitoring vests showed that exposure to particulate matter in the home impacted blood flow and systolic blood pressure. Small increases in exposure resulted in narrowing of the brachial (arm) artery after just two days. Systolic blood pressure increased 1.6mm after one day of exposure in response to indoor and outdoor pollutants. The study results were presented during the American Heart Association’s 2008 Scientific Sessions, as part of the Detroit Exposure and Aerosol Study (DEARS).
The study group, primarily women wore pollution monitoring vests for five days in the summer, and five days in the winter, keeping them in proximity during sleep. The vests measured short-term pollution exposure from motor vehicles, passive smoke, and in the home. No one in the group smoked, nor did any member of the household. The findings were consistent,regardless of ambient air pollution levels considered safe by the EPA.
Bard says we shouldn’t panic, but it might be important to get environmentally active in supporting laws that support better air quality. Anyone with heart disease should avoid going outdoors when pollution levels are high.
Past studies have shown that air pollution increases our risk of developing DVT (deep vein thrombosis), and can thwart high tech interventions performed on heart patients after hospital discharge. In August 2008, a special advisory panel told the government “Smog Probably Kills” – a report met with much debate.
The latest news for heart disease prevention involves a push for taking cholesterol lowering drugs, even if your cholesterol levels are not elevated. The current recommendation for statin use extends to overweight children who are increasingly at risk for heart disease.
Interestingly, studies performed on elders who used HEPA filters in the home found improvements in endothelial (blood vessel lining) function when particulate matter is controlled. Should we be pushing something besides statins?
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