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Air Pollution Hurts Young Hearts, Too

Living with air pollution may take its toll on young as well as older hearts.

A new study shows exposure to urban air pollution prompted a rise in biological markers, such as inflammation, among healthy young adults.

Previous studies have linked air pollution exposure to the development of heart disease in older people or those already at risk for heart disease. But researchers say this study is one of the first to suggest that air pollution may also affect younger adults.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers measured the effect of urban air pollution on biological markers linked to heart disease risk in a group of university students in Taiwan.

Researchers took blood samples and looked at heart rate with an electrocardiogram every 30 days over three months in 2004 and 2005. They then correlated the test results with air pollution measurements taken from an air monitoring station on the students' campus.

The results showed the students displayed increases in all of the markers measured, including inflammation, oxidative stress, and coagulation (blood clotting), with increased exposure to common air pollutants. In particular, increased exposure from common air pollutants found in automobile exhaust was linked to greater effects.

Researcher Chang-Chuan Chan, ScD, of National Taiwan University's College of Public Health, and colleagues say more studies are needed to determine exactly how inhaling air pollutants affects heart disease risk.

In an editorial that accompanies the study, Joel Kaufman, M.D., of the
University of Washington, says many questions remain to be answered, but "these questions should by no means slow the important efforts to reduce exposures and benefit global public health."

By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
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