Even limited air pollution causes heart problems
According to a new study of the London Queen Mary University there seems to be a clear relation between even a small amount of air pollution and changes in the structure of the heart.
Earlier studies showed that the effect of breathing in polluted air is immediate. “It’s the highest time to introduce more severe limits for the presence of polluting particles in the air”, says Tim Nawrot of the UHasselt (Belgium).
Heart under stress
Particles and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), typical polluting elements produced by traffic, make the left and right ventricle of the heart grow, a clear signal that the heart is under stress, and often the first sign in the build-up to a heart failure.
Nay Aung and his team analyzed the data of almost 4.000 volunteers between 40 and 69 years old, who had always lived on the same spot and never had heart problems before. For every microgram of particles and nitrogen dioxide their heart seemed to have enlarged with one hundredth of its original size.
“The effect on the heart is similar to that of other heart-threatening factors, like high blood pressure”, says Aung. “Those volunteers didn’t have heart problems but the widening of the ventricles showed their hearts suffered from stress.” The only way to compensate this, is the increase in size of the heart.
The scientists emphasize it is an observation of a relation, not a direct proof, but the study was adjusted to exclude other malefactors, like smoking or an unhealthy lifestyle. Besides, the relation demonstrated in laboratory animals stayed a fact.
Exposure was on average 9,9 microgram of particles, just beneath the limit of the World’s Health Organization (WHO), and far under the European direction of 25 microgram. The standards for air pollution in Europe are less stricter than the ones of the WHO.
“In Belgium we have an average pollution of 14 microgram, so far above the average in the study. For Tim Nawrot a strong indication “it is the highest time to lower the European standard to the one of the WHO”.
Last week, however, eleven EU member states, among which Belgium, asked the European Union to turn a blind eye to the too high emission figures of nitrogen dioxide from traffic.