Amid rising concerns about the health risks associated with environmental pollution, new research suggests that healthy individuals face an increased risk of heart disease from inflammation and damage to blood vessels after exposure to air pollution.
Air pollution has long been shown to contribute to increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease among already unhealthy, aging people. however, the study published this week in the medical journal Circulation Research indicates that it may play a much bigger role in inciting the early damage to the cells and blood vessels.
Researchers from the University of Louisville collected blood from healthy nonsmoking young adults with no indications of heart disease during three separate study periods from December 2014 to April 2015. They then examined the blood samples, also taken when fine particulate matter pollution levels were low and high.
The findings indicated exposure to air pollution was associated with elevated levels of endothelial micro-particles, or debris from blood cells in the blood vessels.
The air pollution lead to increased inflammation, causing changes in immune cells and increasing the debris in the bloodstream. Increased debris in the bloodstream indicates an increased number of blood vessel cells have died.
Researchers said air pollution exposures, caused by vehicles, factories and power plants, trigger blood vessel damage. Blood vessel damage is an underlying characteristic of cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease. Heart disease can lead to life threatening side effects, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers also concluded factors related to blood vessel growth dropped when air pollution levels were high. Additionally, the immune system chemicals that cause inflammation in the body increased during those times.
The findings indicate air pollution doesn’t just contribute to existing cardiovascular conditions, but may also trigger them early on in healthy people, the study’s authors warn.
However, the researchers also warn that people who have had a stroke, smokers, and people with diabetes or high blood pressure should be extra cautious of high pollution levels because they are at an even higher risk from exposure.
The findings are especially concerning since much of the world is exposed to air pollution to some degree. A report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) warns more than 90 percent of Earth’s population lives in areas with poor air quality, placing millions of people in danger of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The WHO report also estimated 12 percent of global fatalities, or 6.5 million deaths, are caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution.
A study published earlier this year concluded air pollution will kill more than 4.5 million people by the year 2040, unless drastic measures are taken. The study indicated premature deaths from outdoor air pollution are projected to rise from 3 million to 4.5 million by 20104.