RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A large review investigating studies dealing with particulate pollution found that the small particles are creating a devastating effect on cardiovascular health. Particulate pollution, also known as particulate matter or PM, consists of a mix of combustion byproduct particles like soot, ashes, and dust, along with tiny droplets of liquids called aerosols. Some you can see, but some particles are 30 times smaller in diameter than a single strand of hair. To complicate matters, cancer-causing chemicals can hitchhike into your lungs via these tiny particles. The analysis finds that although life expectancy rates have increased as air pollution as a whole has decreased, particle pollution is still causing heart and other cardiovascular ailments, and could even be making people more vulnerable to type 2 diabetes and obesity.
THE DETAILS: The review of particulate air pollution and its effect on cardiovascular health appeared recently in the journal Circulation. Researchers found strong evidence linking higher exposures of particulate matter to an increased risk of hospitalization for heart and lung ailments, including heart disease, congestive heart failure, coronary atherosclerosis, heart attack, blood clots, ischemic stroke, and death.
WHAT IT MEANS: We all know that cigarette smoke is bad for us. But enter particulate matter as another major destroyer of heart health that can possibly lead to or exacerbate high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity. Particulate pollution has also been shown to worsen asthma. A study published recently in the American Journal of Physiology—Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology last month found that ultrafine particle pollution from freeway traffic emissions is potent enough to induce inflammation that exacerbates asthma. The toxic organic compounds found in gasoline exhaust create free radicals in the body that can lead to disease, the researchers say.