Over the years, scientists have discovered many factors that contribute to heart disease. Some are preventable, such as obesity and high blood pressure. Others, are not so avoidable. Scientists have found that air pollution increases the risk of heart disease.
Unfortunately, high air pollution is difficult to escape. Traffic, factories, wildfires or power generation lead to air pollution. These occur almost daily, adding to the dangerous exposure we face.
Specifically, researchers are concerned about small pollution particles, smaller than 2.5 microns. Fuel combustion is the reason for these tiny particles. Because they are so tiny, they can very easily enter the body and irritate the lungs and blood vessels around the heart.
Particulate matter (PM), another word for pollution made up of small particles, is higher in certain areas than others. Countries like Israel and China are at greater risk, as well as anyone who lives near a factory or bustling traffic. In a recent study, greater PM exposure was associated with higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol) and lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (“good” cholesterol). Essentially, high exposure to PM attributes to factors that can later lead to heart disease.
There are differences between short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution. Short-term exposure increases the risk of a heart attack, stroke or hear failure in the elderly or those with pre-existing medical conditions. Long-term exposure is naturally riskier. The risk of death is greater, and it plays a role in high blood pressure, heart failure and diabetes.
How Do We Fix It?
The easiest way to lower your risk of heart disease from air pollution is to take precautions. Dr. Russell Luepker, M.D., a cardiologist and the Mayo professor in the School of Health at the University of Minnesota, says to avoid jobs with high exposures to pollutants and remain indoors during severe pollution.
An obvious solution would be to limit air pollution to reduce mortality rates. Unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Government regulations have slowly been put in place to minimize the amount of pollution emitted from factories, which has had an impact, but we are far from eliminating it all together.