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Smoggy Air May Harden Arteries

L.A. residents show arterial thickening over time

TUESDAY, Feb. 1, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- Breathing in smoggy, polluted air could result in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) over the long term, according to a study in the February issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Researchers studied almost 800 healthy men and women in Los Angeles and found the longer they were exposed to air polluted with fine particulate matter, the thicker the layers of their carotid artery, which carries blood from the heart to the head and neck.

People with the most exposure to air pollution had about eight percent more carotid artery thickening than those with the least exposure to polluted air. In general, women were much more vulnerable to this artery-thickening than men, the researchers report, while nonsmokers and people taking cholesterol-lowering medications also showed heightened vulnerability.

This new data adds to growing evidence linking air pollution with cardiovascular disease, the researchers say, offering a "biologically plausible link" between short- and long-term inhalation of particulate matter in polluted air and a thickening of arterial walls over time -- a major risk factor for fatal heart attacks and strokes.

In a prepared statement, Dr. Jim Burkhart, science editor for Environmental Health Perspectives, added that experts have "known for some time that air pollution leads to lung damage, but this study also emphasizes the role air pollution plays on the arteries. Heart disease is a primary cause of death in the western world, so more research, perhaps focusing on those at highest risk, is important."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about air pollution and health.

SOURCE: Environmental Health Perspectives, news release, Jan. 31, 2005
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