New Research Links Air Pollution to Anxiety, Increased Stroke Risk

smoke-stacksTwo new reports featured in The British Medical Journal point to air pollution as a potential threat to both mental and cardiovascular health. Specifically, higher exposure to fine particulate matter (from industrial sources such as automobile exhaust and power plant emissions) as well as gaseous emissions was linked to increased anxiety and stroke risk.

One report focused on data collected as part of a long-term study of more than 70,000 female nurses in the United States. From the information gathered, researchers were able to determine that the women who lived closer to major roads—and therefore higher levels of pollution—were more likely to experience increased anxiety symptoms such as fearfulness, worrying, and withdrawal. Additionally, symptoms were found to be strongest when exposure was more recent.

So, why the increased risk? Experts believe part of the reason may be because air pollution triggers an inflammation response in the body, which in turn causes the release of certain chemicals linked to psychological distress as well as changes in mood and behavior.

A second report focused on more than 100 different studies conducted worldwide. The goal was to determine whether or not a relationship exists between short-term air pollution and a higher number of stroke-related hospitalizations and fatalities. Indeed, populations exposed to higher levels of both fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants (including carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide) saw a significant rise in stroke rates—which rose exponentially as exposure levels increased.

The takeaway, say researchers involved in analyzing the data, is that we need to take steps to reduce exposure to air pollution and improve overall air quality, especially in highly populated areas where pollutants pose a serious risk to human health.

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Expectant Moms Not Getting Enough Omega-3s

woman_holding_babyOmega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA provide a variety of health benefits for expectant mothers, including promoting healthy brain and eye development in their babies. The problem, say researchers in Canada, is that women who are pregnant and nursing simply aren’t eating enough of these healthy fats.

Using data from the long-term Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition (APRON) study, scientists from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary were able to determine recently that less than 30 percent of pregnant women and only a quarter of new mothers are consuming the daily amount of Omega-3s recommended by leading health experts—typically at least 500 mg total Omega-3 fats, including at least 200 mg of DHA.

The ongoing study involves more than 2,000 women and centers on the relationship between maternal nutrition and healthy child development. For this particular research, scientists focused on just under a third of the participants and found that regardless of income, location, and other factors, the majority of women failed to get enough beneficial Omega-3s in their diets. When they did consume the beneficial fats, they came mostly from seafood—salmon in particular.

Interestingly, pregnant and nursing women who reported taking a DHA fish oil supplement were up to 11 percent more likely to meet the daily Omega-3 recommendations. Researchers hope the results of the study, published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, will increase awareness about the benefits of Omega-3s during and after pregnancy.

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