Health effects of air pollution go beyond lung disease

March 6, 2017 by Dory Devlin, Rutgers University
Health effects of air pollution go beyond lung disease
A growing body of research reveals links between air pollutants to other illnesses besides lung disease, including heart disease, nervous system conditions and newborn infant outcomes such as low birthweight. Credit: Shutterstock

Since 2000, the last year the American Thoracic Society issued a statement on the effect of air pollution on lung diseases, a growing body of research reveals links between air pollutants and other illnesses, including heart disease, nervous system conditions and newborn infant outcomes such as low birthweight.

As a result, a recent policy statement by the organization of 15,000 physicians, research scientists and health care providers – released jointly with the European Respiratory Society – spotlights an expanded list of adverse health effects caused, in part, by pollution exposure.

"What's new in this statement is a broadening of the adverse effects of air pollution going beyond respiratory disease, which is consistent with a lot of research that's been done in the 16 years since our last statement," said Howard Kipen, a co-author and director of clinical research and occupational medicine at Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.

Chief among the new findings: "The research shows there are more cases of heart-related disease that are affected by air pollution than there are of lung disease," Kipen said. Short-term exposures contribute to heart failure incidents and strokes and can trigger myocardial infarction, ventricular and atrial arrhythmias, and high blood pressure, the research review found.

Several studies also indicated a relationship between air pollution exposure and numerous biomarkers associated with heightened cardiovascular risk – including decreased heart rate variability and increased coronary artery calcification. But the authors found that no conclusion can be made yet to determine whether such changes lead to adverse health effects.

There also is an emerging body of evidence linking to type 2 diabetes, These findings are supported by other studies that show insulin resistance and elevated hemoglobin A1c, the statement reads.

In its last report, the American Thoracic Society identified infants as a susceptible group but did not address in utero exposure to . A review of research since then reveals that when pregnant women are exposed to air pollution, there is a wide range of adverse effects on babies' health after birth and increased susceptibility to disease later in life, Kipen said. The authors found associations between air pollutant exposures and pre-term birth and low birthweight.

"Results from these studies and meta-analysis indicate that maternal exposure to air pollution is associated with increased risk of low birthweight, but there was considerable variability in risk estimates by specific gestational period," according to the report. The authors noted that "low birthweight at term and prematurity are adverse effects that are caused by maternal ."

Meanwhile, the link between respiratory illness and air pollution remain undisputable, the report finds. "There is convincing epidemiological evidence that both short-term and long-term exposures to air pollutants, including particulate matter, ozone, black carbon and nitrogen oxides are associated with increases in respiratory mortality," it reads, while particulate matter exposure increases the risk of lung cancer.

A link between exposure to air pollutants and neurodegenerative disorders, including dementia, as well as psychiatric disorders and other mental health issues also surfaced, but Kipen said the findings are not conclusive and more research is needed.

The research review proves the list of detectible air pollution health effects continues to expand, making it more important to determine the adversity of these many effects.

The report also offers a framework of considerations for assessing when air pollutants are truly linked to adverse health outcomes, and also how to assess the adversity of various different types of health outcomes.

Explore further: High blood pressure linked to short-, long-term exposure to some air pollutants

More information: erj.ersjournals.com/content/49/1/1600419.long

Related Stories

High blood pressure linked to short-, long-term exposure to some air pollutants

May 31, 2016
Both short- and long-term exposure to some air pollutants commonly associated with coal burning, vehicle exhaust, airborne dust and dirt are associated with the development of high blood pressure, according to new research ...

EU study finds exposure to even low levels of air pollution during pregnancy increases risk of lower birthweight babies

October 14, 2013
Exposure to common air pollutants and traffic during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of restricted fetal growth, even at levels well below those stipulated in current European Union air-quality directives, according ...

3 million deaths linked to outdoor air pollution annually

January 13, 2017
In a report released in 2016, the World Health Organization revealed that more than 90 percent of the world's population lives in areas with high levels of air pollution, and that every year, close to three million deaths ...

Traffic-related air pollution associated with changes in right ventricular structure and function

March 7, 2014
Exposure to high levels of traffic-related air pollution is associated with changes in the right ventricle of the heart that may contribute to the known connection between air pollution exposure and heart disease, according ...

Short-term exposure to most major air pollutants raises the risk of hospitalization for and death from heart failure

July 9, 2013
Short-term exposure to most major air pollutants appears to increase the risk of being hospitalised for and dying from heart failure, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of data from 12 countries published ...

Exposure to traffic air pollution in infancy impairs lung function in children

October 12, 2012
Exposure to ambient air pollution from traffic during infancy is associated with lung function deficits in children up to eight years of age, particularly among children sensitized to common allergens, according to a new ...

Recommended for you

Hair products for Black women contain mix of hazardous ingredients

April 25, 2018
A new report published today in the journal Environmental Research shows that Black women are potentially exposed to dozens of hazardous chemicals through the hair products they use.

Mediterranean diet boosts beneficial bacteria

April 25, 2018
Here's another reason to eat a Mediterranean-type diet: It's good for your gut.

Consuming protein supplements with meals may work better for weight control

April 25, 2018
A new systematic review of available evidence appearing in Nutrition Reviews indicates that consuming protein supplements with meals may be more effective at promoting weight control than consuming supplements between meals ...

Drinking affects mouth bacteria linked to diseases

April 24, 2018
When compared with nondrinkers, men and women who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day had an overabundance of oral bacteria linked to gum disease, some cancers, and heart disease. By contrast, drinkers had fewer bacteria ...

Potential for sun damage should be carefully balanced with need for vitamin D in children, say scientists

April 24, 2018
Scientists at King's College London are encouraging parents and carers to ensure even more rigorous protection of children against the harmful effects of the sun. The comments follow a study which has suggested that children ...

Millennials aren't getting the message about sun safety and the dangers of tanning

April 24, 2018
Many millennials lack knowledge about the importance of sunscreen and continue to tan outdoors in part because of low self-esteem and high rates of narcissism that fuel addictive tanning behavior, a new study from Oregon ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.