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Air pollution: bad for your arteries

While pollution is an accepted part of our everyday lives, emerging evidence shows it could be contributing to potentially fatal heart attacks and stroke.

Air pollution: bad for your arteries

It is well known that air pollution can be detrimental to our health, but a new study has found long-term exposure to the harmful particles in the air may increase our chances of stroke and heart disease.

A US study led by scientists from the Universities of Michigan and Washington, examined the risks of exposure to fine particle pollution to the carotid arteries  – those which supply the brain, neck and head with much-needed oxygenated blood.

They found that a higher concentration of particulate matter in the more polluted areas around town were directly linked to an increased rate of thickening of the arterial walls.

Produced by motor vehicles, power plants, factories and others sources of combustion, fine particulate matter (or particles with a width less than a human hair)  have long been believed to be linked to cardiovascular disease. But all previous studies into the area have proved inconclusive, until now.

The study, published in PLoS Medicine, researched more than 5,300 people aged between 45 and 84 years of age from six metropolitan areas in the US. After taking into consideration other lifestyle factors – like smoking – the authors found that on average, the thickness of the carotid artery increased by up to 14 micrometres annually.

“Our findings help us to understand how it is that exposures to air pollution may cause the increases in heart attacks and strokes observed by other studies,” said study lead author Dr Sara Adar from the University of Michigan.

“Linking these findings with other results from the same population suggests that persons living in a more polluted part of town may have a two per cent higher risk of stroke as compared to people in a less polluted part of the same metropolitan area,” she added.

The researchers will pick up the study in 10 years time to follow up with cohort. This, they hope, will help the researcher better understand the long-term effects of exposure to air pollution and cardiovascular events.

Below, we’ve compiled three tips to help you in the fight against air pollution:

  • When driving in metropolitan areas, try to avoid opening your windows. Instead, use the reverse-cycle air-condition function.
  • Some studies believe antioxidants can help in the fight against dangerous particulate matter. Research has shown eating food rich in Vitamin C can help our bodies deal with the inevitable consequences of air pollution.
  • Avoid the heat; air quality is often at its lowest when temperatures are at their highest. Plan outdoor activities and exercise for morning or evening. Try and avoid walking, running or cycling along busy streets and roads where pollutants tend to be higher in number.
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