Airborne particulates have long been known to cause ill effects. A recent study links exposure to air pollution with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke in women with diabetes.

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Air pollution has a significant impact on global health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), particulate matter (PM) air pollution contributes to approximately 7 million premature deaths each year.

That astonishing figure equates to 1 in 8 deaths globally.

Air pollution is now considered the world’s number one environmental health risk. Consequently, a reduction in air pollution could save millions of lives.

As such, PM air pollution and its impact on public health is an area of intense interest and scientific investigation.

A US-wide study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, is the first to find links between particulate exposure and negative health effects in women with diabetes.

Among other negative health impacts, particle pollution has been linked to premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, arrhythmia, decreased lung function and exacerbated asthma.

PM is also thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD) by an increase in inflammation, activation of coagulation and direct entry into systemic circulation.

The current study utilized data from the Nurses’ Health Study, consisting of 114,537 women. Data was collected between 1989-2006.

The participants were predominantly white women of middle- and upper-socioeconomic status throughout the US.

From each participant’s home address, the research team used a model to predict what type of air pollution they were likely to have been exposed to.

Next, the team collated incidences of CVD, coronary heart disease and strokes across the cohort. They calculated the impact of three different size groups of PM:

  • PM 2.5: fine particulate pollutants, smaller than 2.5 thousandths of a mm, i.e., smaller than dust
  • PM 2.5-10: particulate pollutants from 2.5-10 thousandths of a mm, for instance windblown and road dust, and dust from crushing and grinding
  • PM 10: includes all sizes of particles from both the PM 2.5 and PM 2.5-10 groups.

According to the data, all levels of PM gave a small elevated risk of CVD; women over the age of 70, who are obese or who live in the northeast or south of America were particularly at risk.

The team also found that this risk of CVD and stroke was particularly high in women with diabetes. The risk increased with every 10 mg/m3 of air:

  • PM 2.5: 44% for CVD / 66% for stroke
  • PM 2.5-10: 17% for CVD / 18% for stroke
  • PM 10: 19% for CVD / 23% for stroke.

In regards to the increased risk associated with smaller particulate matter, lead study author Jaime E. Hart, assistant professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, told Medical News Today:

Many studies have shown that the smallest size fraction (PM 2.5) is associated with the highest risks. There is evidence that the smaller particles get deeper into the lungs and can even cross into the blood stream.”

Their analysis adjusted for family history and smoking status, neither of which impacted the results. Those who had been subjected to smaller PM still had a significantly increased risk of CVD and stroke.

Because air pollution and diabetes are such hot topics, no doubt this will be the first of many investigations into the links between the two. The main thrust of the study was to highlight those groups within the population that might be at risk, and to raise awareness of the impact of PM air pollution.

Diabetics are an ever-growing section of the American population, and any implications of air quality on their general health need to be investigated.

Hart says:

It is important to identify these subgroups, so that pollution standards can be developed that protect them.”

MNT recently wrote about pollution and its role as a risk factor for anxiety and trigger for stroke.