Air Pollution Linked to Heart Disease

Short term air pollution reduction found to improve cardiovascular health in Beijing Olympics study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Scientists hoped to examine how brief air pollution reductions would affect the heart.

Using an interesting location -- the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- they found that even short-term drops in pollution exposure improve cardiovascular health.

Research has previously suggested that air pollution negatively affects heart health, but there have been fewer studies that have looked at short-term impacts.

"Reduce your exposure to air pollution when possible."

Junfeng Zhang, PhD, the study's senior author and professor of environmental and global health at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, said he believes the study is the first to clearly show that changes in levels of air pollution affect cardiovascular disease mechanisms in healthy, young individuals.

The Beijing Olympics were chosen as the "laboratory" because the city suffers from chronic air pollution, but $17 billion was pledged on environmental cleanup, shuttering factories and limiting car traffic to ensure the city had pollution levels comparable to other host cities during the Olympics.

The pollution control was relaxed following the Olympics and the Paralympic games, also hosted in Beijing the following month.

During the study researchers recruited 125 resident doctors working at a central Beijing hospital. Their average age was 24. They had never smoked and were free of diseases.

The participants visited the clinic twice before the new pollution controls, twice while the pollution was actively controlled and two more after the games had ended.

In addition, researchers examined blood biomarkers for inflammation and blood clotting, heart rate and blood pressure.

They found statistically significant reductions in Von Willebrand factor and soluble CD62P levels. Both are associated with blood coagulation. They also noticed that CD62P and systolic blood pressure levels increased significantly following the Olympics, suggesting that higher air pollution levels are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems.

"Changes in cardiovascular physiology and inflammation contribute to the instability of atherosclerotic plaques, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke if ruptured," Zhang said. "The changes in Von Willebrand factor and soluble CD62P are consistent with their roles in rapid thrombotic response."

The study also suggested that reductions in air pollution exposure can provide immediate health benefits, particularly for the heart.

The study has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Review Date: 
May 13, 2012
Last Updated:
July 9, 2012