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Health Watch: HEPA Filters And Your Heart

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- To reduce the chance of having a heart attack, doctors tell us to lower our cholesterol and blood pressure, exercise more and eat less fat. Now a study says a simple device many of us already have might also help prevent heart attacks, Dr. Max Gomez reports.

The device is an air filter, but not just any air filter. It's a special type called a High Efficiency Particulate Air filter, or as you probably know it: a HEPA filter.

Turns out by getting rid of a certain type of air pollution, some important risk factors for heart disease actually get better.

Exhaust from cars, trucks, and factories are downsides of modern life. In addition to noxious gasses, much air pollution contains billions of micro-particles that most city dwellers know all about.

"The apartment is perfectly clean and by evening time, if we keep the windows open,there's soot. There's a black film that we see within a few hours," said Ruben Giron.

Turns out that when we breathe in those tiny particles, as Dr. Clifford Bassett of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York explains, "just being exposed to air pollution can increase your heart rate, your blood pressure."

Those particles can also increase a couple of key risk factors for heart disease: inflammation and the health of the lining of blood vessels.

"Can lead to problems with blood flow to the heart and hence heart attacks or coronary artery disease," said Dr. Leroy Rabbani of New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Now a new study looked at these two heart disease markers in 45 adults in Canada before and after running HEPA air filters in their homes.

The HEPA filters are very effective at taking micro-particles out of the air. They ran in the main rooms and bedrooms in homes that had wood-burning stoves, which put out lots of micro-particles.

After two weeks, inflammation went down and the health of the artery lining went up, which according to heart experts is very significant.

"Anything that we can do to improve the health of the inner lining of the arteries as well as to reduce inflammation will ultimately down the line lead to fewer heart attacks and better health so its an intriguing study in this regard," said Dr. Rabbani.

Dr. Basset said HEPA filters also help reduce allergies and asthma triggers so you get additional benefit. Not to mention it keeps your home cleaner.

But it's important to get a HEPA filter that's the right size for your home or room, and to remember to change the filter.

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