Childhood Air Pollution Exposure Linked To Heart Disease, Other Health Problems in Adulthood: Study

The findings of a new study highlights the risks associated with childhood air pollution exposure, indicating DNA changes which may be caused by particulate matter potentially leading to heart disease and other ailments that appear later in adulthood.

In a report published last month in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from Stanford University found even brief exposure to air pollution can change the regulation of children’s genes and alter their blood pressure for future generations. This potentially places them at an increased risk of cardiovascular injury later in life.

The study focused on a predominantly Hispanic group of children ages 6-8 in Fresno, California, where the country’s air pollution is some of the highest due to wildfires and industrial agriculture. The children were tested for exposure of one day, one week, one month, three months, six months and 12 months. The choice of mainly Hispanic children was due to their increased exposure to higher-traffic related pollution in California.

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Exposure to fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, was found to alter DNA in a way that may affect the blood pressure levels in children as they reach adulthood, and remain in their genes, potentially causing future generational issues for their children. Researchers also found an increase in monocytes, which are white blood cells that play a role in the buildup of plaque in arteries, and this could cause children to develop heart disease later in adulthood.

The researchers indicate their findings are consistent with previous research and expands the knowledge of how air pollution can impate immune-regulatory genes.

Air pollution exposure poses a global health concern, and is known to cause a number of issues, including neurological problems, respiratory risks and other complications, which do not only impact children. Globally, estimates suggest that air pollution kills more than 7 million people each year.

“We found associations between air pollution exposure and methylation of immunoregulatory genes, protein expression of associated immune cell types and clinical expression of blood pressure,” the researchers concluded. “This study thus suggests that pollution exposure early in life may be associated with multiple outcomes, potentially impacting long-term health into adulthood.”

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