Living Near Busy Streets and Roads ‘leaves people at risk of heart damage’
Living near a pollution-spewing busy road leaves people more likely to show signs of heart damage, a study has found.
The study of 4,000 Brits shows those exposed to vehicle exhaust fumes have changes in the structure of the heart similar to those seen in the early stages of heart failure.
Researchers from Oxford University and Queen Mary University of London looked at the development of the larger right and left ventricles which are the main pumping chambers.
The British Heart Foundation-funded study found a clear link between those who lived near loud, busy roads, and were exposed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or PM2.5 – the small particles of air pollution that can be absorbed deep in to the lungs.
Dr Nay Aung of Queen Mary University,said: “Although our study was observational and has not yet shown a causal link, we saw significant changes in the heart, even at relatively low levels of air pollution exposure.
“Air pollution should be seen as a modifiable risk factor.
“Doctors and the general public all need to be aware of the their exposure when they think about their heart health, just like they think about their blood pressure, their cholesterol and their weight.”
Participants in the UK Biobank study provided information on their lifestyles, health record and where they have lived. They also had blood tests and MRI scans to measure the size, weight and function of their hearts.
Higher exposures to the pollutants were linked to more significant changes in the structure of the heart. For every one extra microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5 and for every 10 extra micrograms per cubic metre of NO2, the heart enlarges by 1% .
Participants had no symptoms but similar heart remodelling is seen in the early stages of heart failure.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study said: “We cannot expect people to move home to avoid air pollution. Governments and public bodies must be acting right now to make all areas safe and protect the population from these harms.
“What is particularly worrying is that the levels of air pollution, particularly PM2.5, at which this study saw people with heart re-modelling are not even deemed particularly high by the UK Government – this is why we are calling for the WHO guidelines to be adopted. They are less than half of UK legal limits and while we know there are no safe limits for some forms of air pollution, we believe this is a crucial step in protecting the nation’s heart health.
“Having these targets in law will also help to improve the lives of those currently living with heart and circulatory diseases, as we know they are particularly affected by air pollution.”
Most of those analysed were not in living major cities. Researchers now plan to look at the condition of hearts of people in central Manchester and London and then perhaps to New York City and Los Angeles.
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