Pollution increases risk of early death and heart damage

29 May 2017

Pollution from diesel has been linked to premature death and heart damage.

Researchers from London’s Queen Mary University have found that being exposed to particles in the fuel can trigger inflammation, causing the heart to enlarge and struggle to pump blood.

Furthermore, they also found diesel narrows blood vessels, thus resulting in high blood pressure and increasing the risk of strokes and heart failure.

Experts analysed 4,255 participants from the U.K. Biobank study with an average age of 62, with 47 per cent of participants being men. MRI scans were carried out to measure the structure of their heart, while exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), emitted from diesel vehicles on the road, was calculated by where the people lived.

Read more: Air pollution linked to a bad night’s sleep

Results showed that the higher the PM2.5 levels, the more likely the heart’s function and structure are to deteriorate. Researchers also found that those people with low-level education are in more danger due to their home and work conditions or their lack of knowledge and healthcare access.

“There is strong evidence that particulate matter (PM) emitted mainly from diesel road vehicles is associated with increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and death,” study author Dr Nay Aung said.

“This appears to be driven by an inflammatory response - inhalation of fine particulate matter causes localised inflammation of the lungs followed by a more systemic inflammation affecting the whole body.

Read more: Candles and cleaning products among in-home air polluters

“We found that as PM2.5 exposure rises, the larger the heart gets and the worse it performs. Both of these measures are associated with increased morbidity and mortality from heart disease.”

Dr Aung insisted that reducing the levels of PM2.5 emission should be an “urgent public health priority”, with culprit vehicles given policy measures to avoid doing extra damage. As for how people can keep themselves safe, he urged the public to avoid times and locations where the pollution level is high and those who want to cycle to work should take a quieter, less vehicle-filled route. Walking on the pavement as far away from the road can also help make a difference.

Results were presented at the European Society of Cardiology.

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