Several studies show that exposure to air pollution elevates blood pressure.

It’s all good and well to lower high blood pressure and prevent heart disease by getting regular exercise, but what about people who live near high-traffic areas or unhealthy residential locations? Does air-pollution affect hypertension?

Several researchers have asked the same question and results show that air pollution can represent a risk to cardiovascular health, including blood pressure. Before, doctors could only counsel people to change their diet and increase exercise as a means of reducing their risk of heart attack and stroke. However, given new research, improving air quality may also be a way of reducing one’s risk.

Harvard researchers found that soot (black carbon) elevated blood pressure in a study of 800 older Massachusetts men around 72 years of age. They also found preliminary correlations between certain genes and a lowered blood-pressure response to the level of soot in the air. In other research, Harvard found that the nutrients folate, vitamins B6 and B12 help guard the heart from the impact of particulate air pollution.

A University of Southern California study involving 1,483 participants in Los Angeles, showed that exposure to air pollution, such as living near a freeway, can double the rate of arterial thickening (atherosclerosis), which leads to heart attacks, stroke and related deaths. Researchers concluded that “the fact that we can detect progression of atherosclerosis in relation to ambient air pollution above and beyond other well-established risk factors indicates that environmental factors may play a larger role in the risk for cardiovascular disease than previously suspected.” The investigators said their findings support emerging evidence that high-traffic corridors are unhealthy residential locations. They are now investigating the risks in children and young adults.

University of Michigan researchers looked at how air pollution akin to that found near major roadways affected healthy people. They found that it significantly raised diastolic blood pressure and even impaired the normal function of blood vessels. Researchers said they were “most concerned by the implications for people who have cardiovascular disease,” because even a slight increase in blood pressure could trigger a stroke or heart attack. The study was also the first to determine that particulate matter is worse for health than ozone.

A joint study by University of Washington and the Chronic Disease Epidemiology Group, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NC, involved 43,629 women (aged 35-74), all with sisters with breast cancer. The found an association with exposure to fine particulate matter air pollution and nitrogen dioxide with significant increases in blood pressure. The University of Washington has also found that vitamins A and C benefited people with asthma who were sensitive to air pollutants.

Air pollution can also include noise pollution. A new international study has found that aircraft noise is leading to a rise in hospital admissions for heart and lung disease. The study investigated millions of people living near Heathrow, and a further six million elderly people living around America’s airports. It found that “the noise can lead to more stress, sleep deprivation and high blood pressure.” Analysts say the findings have implications domestically for new airports slated for residential areas.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over three million premature deaths each year are caused by air pollution. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the most frequently found pollutants in the air are particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide — mostly as a result of power plants, car exhaust, and industrial emissions.


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