Air Pollution and Heart Health

Most people know that a diet high in bad fats (saturated and trans fats), and low in dietary fiber, can lead to the development of heart disease. But did you know that air pollution is also a risk factor for heart disease? Of particular concern is the particulate matter (PM) or particle pollution, composed of solid and liquid particles in the air. PM comes from a variety of sources—vehicle exhaust, road dust, power generation, industrial combustion, construction and demolition activities, residential wood burning, windblown soil, pollens, molds, forest fires and volcanic emissions.

People exposed to higher levels of PM are at higher risk for cardiovascular events, including heart and stroke deaths. Reducing exposure to air pollution is one way to reduce these risks.

A recent study looked at the effect of using indoor HEPA (high efficiency particle air) filters on the reduction of indoor air pollution, and how that related to blood markers of heart disease. One HEPA filter was placed in the main living space of the home, and the other filter was placed in the bedroom. The filters ran for one week. About half of the homes in the study used wood burning stoves, a significant source of indoor air pollution.

The results? The average concentrations of fine particulate matter inside the homes was reduced by 60 percent, and wood smoke was reduced by 75 percent. Further, endothelial function improved, and the inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP) decreased. These improvements are indications of the short-term heart health benefits of reducing air pollution exposure.