City living could be taking a toll on your heart health. According to a new study from the UK, long-term urban living could be changing the structure of your heart.
Researchers studied a group of 3,920 participants without pre-existing cardiovascular disorders for a period of five years. The participants were between the ages of 55 and 70 and lived in urban areas.
Researchers found that participants exposed to low levels of air pollution associated with city living experienced an enlargement of their heart’s pumping chambers by 2%.
The research team used cardiac magnetic resonance imaging techniques to track the participants’ exposure to air pollutants. The key pollutants in the study included nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5).
“Even short-term exposures to fine particulate matter that make up air pollution can trigger heart attacks, strokes, abnormal heart rhythms, and worsen heart failure,” said Dr. Wayne Cascio.
Cascio is the director of the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Cascio says it isn’t only those in urban areas that need to be concerned, but also residents who live near busy roads.
The air pollution that comes from tires, car exhaust, and other parts of the vehicles can have an effect on heart health and blood vessel structure and function.
Air pollution has also been linked to higher risks of lung cancer and breast cancer. Approximately 22 out of 10,000 women between the ages of 50 and 54 are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in the coming year.
There are other factors that can increase your risk of breast cancer.
For instance, weight is considered the number one insecurity among Americans with teeth coming in second. Obesity can increase your risk for breast cancer because fat cells produce estrogen. And healthy eating has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer (chicken is considered the number one protein consumed in the United States).
Still, past studies have shown that exposure to ambient air pollution can cause more than cancer. It can also take a serious toll on your respiratory and cardiovascular health.
According to Cascio, the study conducted in the UK by Dr. Nau Aung and colleagues supports the findings made in a clinical study conducted in the United States.
The study, known as the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) Air Study, observed that long-term exposure to near-road environment appears to affect the structure of the heart.
The study conducted by Dr. Aung shows the observation to be correct. And although a 2% enlargement of the pumping chambers of the heart may sound small, this enlargement was only observed over a period of five years
Persistent exposure to air pollutants could cause a gradual chamber enlargement. An enlargement of the heart chambers can make it more difficult for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.
Over time, this condition could lead to heart failure. Future studies on air pollution and heart conditions will focus on evaluating participants in the long term.
Researchers say that by studying these effects in the long term can help to determine whether exposure to air pollution in urban areas do, in fact, cause individuals to develop heart failure at higher rates.