Air pollution may cause blood vessel damage: study

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Exposure to fine particulate matter may cause blood vessel damage and inflammation among young, healthy adults, according to scientists including one of Indian origin, who have found how air pollution contributes to cardiovascular disease and related deaths.

Air pollution

For the study, researchers studied the component of air pollution known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – the tiny pieces of solid or liquid pollution emitted from motor vehicles, factories, power plants, fires and smoking.

They found that periodic exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with several abnormal changes in the blood that are markers for cardiovascular disease.

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As air pollution rose, they found small, micro-particles indicating cell injury and death significantly increased in number; levels of proteins that inhibit blood vessel growth increased; and proteins that signify blood-vessel inflammation also showed significant increased. “These results substantially expand our understanding about how air pollution contributes to cardiovascular disease by showing that exposure is associated with a cascade of adverse effects,” said study lead author C Arden Pope professor at Brigham Young University in the US.

“These findings suggest that living in a polluted environment could promote the development of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke more pervasively and at an earlier stage than previously thought,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, professor at the University of Louisville in the US. “Although we have known for some time that air pollution can trigger heart attacks or strokes in susceptible, high-risk individuals, the finding that it could also affect even seemingly healthy individuals suggests that increased levels of air pollution are of concern to all of us, not just the sick or the elderly,” Bhatnagar said.

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Study participants included 72 healthy, non-smoking, adults. Their average age was 23, most were white, and more than half were male. During the winters of 2013, 2014, and 2015, participants provided blood samples, which researchers then tested for markers of cardiovascular disease. Researchers were able to evaluate these informative blood markers with various levels of air pollution.

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However, they noted that the third study year, 2015, was relatively unpolluted, which could have affected the results. The study was published in the journal Circulation Research.

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