Most people would agree that air pollution stinks—literally. But as a cardiologist, I’ve long been particularly concerned with the negative toll air pollution takes on the heart. And so far in 2016, we’ve seen multiple studies conclude that air pollution is dangerous to cardiovascular health.
In a brand new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers found that air pollution exposure can increase blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, as well as other factors that raise the risk of developing heart disease. The research team analyzed the data of over 73,000 adults living in southern Israel where particulate matter (PM)—which is a type of pollution that consists of very small particles and liquid droplets—is high. The study participants’ blood samples revealed that exposure to higher average levels of PM in the previous three months was associated with an increase in heart disease risk factors.
What they found is that for each 10 μm/m3 increase in air particles less than 2.5 μm in diameter, there was a 1.19% increase in strokes. Plus, the converse was also true. In regions with low levels of this small particle air pollution the incidence of strokes was significantly lower.
Air Pollution Is Also Linked to Heart Attacks
A study published a few years back in the British Medical Journal showed that high pollution exposure significantly increases your risk of having a heart attack for six hours.
This large-scale study, which was conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, followed 79,288 people in the United Kingdom who had a heart attack between 2003 and 2006. They measured the traffic pollution in the areas where each participant lived—including ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and more. What they found is that significant pollution exposure upped the risk of a heart attack for six hours.
This isn't surprising since breathing polluted air impacts your cardiovascular system. After all, it's through your lungs that your heart receives its life-sustaining oxygen. Air pollutants that you breathe can become lodged in your lungs, leaving them prone to infection and distress. Also, impaired lungs put undue stress on your cardiovascular system. In fact, air pollution is so dangerous that it can negatively impact even those of us without heart or lung vulnerabilities.
Plus, more studies have linked airborne pollutants and heart disease:
- Results from studies funded by the National Institute of Health's Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) have demonstrated a strong relationship between levels of airborne particles and risk of early death from heart disease.
- In a long-term Harvard University study on residents of six U.S. cities to assess the effects of common air pollutants on respiratory and cardiovascular health, results showed that subjects living in the more polluted cities had a higher risk of hospitalization and early death from pulmonary and heart diseases as compared to those living in the less polluted cities. The relationship between air pollution and mortality was much stronger for the fine particle component pollutants.
- In a follow-up study sponsored by the NIEHS and the American Cancer Society, researchers measured the cardiovascular effects of fine particle air pollution in a sample of more than 500,000 people in 50 different cities. Once again, there was a strong association between high concentrations of fine particle pollution and increased mortality from cardiopulmonary illness.
- Also, very fine particle air pollution can aggravate the sympathetic nervous system. This, in turn, can supress heart rate variability which is a significant cardiac marker of health.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself from Air Pollution?
Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to limit your exposure to pollution:
1. On hot humid days, try to stay indoors, close the windows, and use a fan or an air conditioner. If you have an air conditioner, remember to clean or replace your filter at least every six months since faulty, contaminated air conditioning filters can cause respiratory illnesses.
2. On "clean air days," when pollen counts are low and the air is clean (relatively speaking, of course), open your windows and doors to air out dust, molds and other chemicals that have accumulated over the winter months.
3. Invest in an air filter. Not only will it clear the air of thick, dense particles, it will filter out low-micron particles, dust mites, molds, pollens, allergens and animal dander. A good system, such as the HEPA (be sure to get a true HEPA, not a system advertised as "HEPA-like"), should filter at least 99.9% of dust particles as small as .3 microns from the air.
4. Cleanse your system from the inside with vitamin E (200 IU of mixed tocopherols including gamma) which protects the lungs from excessive auto emissions and ozone, vitamin C (300 to 500 mg) which is a powerful antioxidant, beta carotene (7,500 to 10,000 IU) which protects the lungs, quercetin (100 mg) to combat environmental allergens, and CoQ10 (100 to 200 mg) to stabilize membranes and round up harmful free radicals.
5. Practice Earthing, either by going barefoot outside or sitting or lying on a special conductive device, such as pads for the floor or bed. Connecting to the Earth like this helps to support heart rate variability.