News: AAAS 2008 Annual Meeting News Blog
Scientists: Air Pollution Increases Risk for Heart Disease, Stroke
Speaking at a AAAS Annual Meeting press briefing, a panel of researchers said air pollution could lead to the hardening of arteries – atherosclerosis – with an impact similar to smoking.
While the results remain preliminary, the researchers said small-particle pollutants, including gasoline and diesel exhaust, appear to cause increased plaque production in vascular systems of studied mice.
In his presentation, Lung Chi Chen, a researcher at the New York University School of Medicine, described research in which he engineered mice with a limited ability to remove fat from their blood, making them similar to obese people. He then exposed one set of mice to cigarette smoke and another to air pollutants. Chen found that both sets showed a hardening of the arteries.
“Everybody knows secondhand smoke is bad for your cardiovascular system,” Chen said at the 17 February 2008 briefing. “But less people know about the effect of small particles in air pollution.”
While the precise mechanism remains unknown, Jesus Araujo, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the small particles might inflame the lungs, causing them to release chemicals that affect the vascular system.
“Apparently, the smaller the particle, the larger the damaging effect,” Araujo said, adding that the pollution and other genetic factors appear to have a “synergetic” affect on hardening arteries.
The researchers urged regulatory agencies to pay more attention to air quality in cities, especially to ultra-fine pollutant particles.
“The research is tremendously important because a lot of people live in cities with poor air quality,” Araujo said. “A lot of people’s health is at stake.”