Every human being inhales thousands of gallons of air composed of nitrogen, oxygen and other gases. It goes without saying that such a crucial aspect of human living, i.e. air- should be clean and void of any harmful substances or particles. However, sadly this is not the case at all. Even if the air we breathe falls under pollution levels as defined by Environmental Protection Agency, it is still very much polluted and is causing more illnesses and diseases than scientists and researchers have been able to uncover.
Air pollution was previously linked to lung diseases like asthma, and lung development delay in children as well as lung cancer. However, there was always an ongoing theory that pollution also adversely affects the heart. With cardiovascular diseases accounting for one of three deaths in the United States, there is no doubt that a stronger, unavoidable source was causing the mounting heart problems within the population.
Connection between heart disease and pollution
Scientists were aware that pollution caused heart disease. However, it is not until recently that HOW heart disease is caused by pollution was discovered:
1. Air pollution
1.1 Harmful gases
The air we breathe in is contaminated with sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, as well as tiny particles of matter. Factories and cars release tons of pollutants per day. Manufacturing of plastics is another pollution dense process that releases chemicals such as chlorine, sulphuric acid, and vinyl chloride. Moreover, smoking, aerosol sprays and burning of trash further pollutes the air that we breathe in.
Researchers have recently been able to deduce that the air pollution not only affects the lungs, but also the heart which is so close to the lungs. Carbon monoxide from passive smoke decreases oxygen supply to our heart. The particles in diesel exhaust constrict the blood vessels which limits blood flow to our heart.
Another important pollution causing element are airborne pollutants known as PM2.5 that are approximately one tenth of a human hair and can get deep into our lungs. They activate the immune cells known as macrophages. These cells are associated in creating artery clogging plaque that can hinder blood flow and raise the risk of a heart attack.
In the 1950’s, smog was a big pollutant but it consisted of large particles that got stuck in the upper airways. With PM2.5 particles, they are so small that they can easily invade the lungs and also escape from there to spread in our entire body!
The American Heart Association concludes a 1.4% increase in heart associated deaths for every 10mg of particulates per cubic foot of air.
Also, according to findings of Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, high exposure to air pollution can lower down your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol. This lowering of the HDL due to air pollution is more common in women than men! The lower levels of “good” cholesterol in our body are now unable to remove “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) from our bodies, thus causing heart problems.
2. Noise pollution
Noise is not just annoying, it can also cause cardiovascular diseases. When exposed to noise pollution such as traffic, planes, horns, etc., the sympathetic nervous system kicks in which can make you jumpy. Moreover, noise also disrupts sleep which makes a person stressed. Hence, noise pollution may also be a contributing factor to the rising amount of heart diseases in people.
List of precautions
The elderly and those with a pre-existing heart disease are at a greater risk of facing the adverse effects of air pollution. Those with atherosclerosis in which arteries are narrowed due to plaque build-up; face a risk of arteries rupturing due to further blockage caused by pollution. However, even the completely healthy individuals are at a continuous risk of incurring a heart disease due to the growing amounts of air pollution.
Hence, everyone needs to take the below precautions to limit their exposure to pollution:
- Try to stay inside as much as possible to avoid the outside pollution.
- Drink lots of water.
- Follow a healthy nutrient rich diet.
- Exercise to keep your body and heart fit.
- Keep indoor plants.
- Use a pollution mask when you are exposed to a high pollution area.
- Use vehicles with closed windows.
- Avoid construction sites and high pollution areas.
- Invest in an air purifier.
- Use electric and not gas oven.
- Play a strong role in contributing to reduction of air pollution by using public transport, bike/cycle or carpooling.
Cities with highest air pollution and heart disease
According to World Health Organization, the following cities face the highest amount pollution in the world. These cities especially contain high level of particle matter that can enter a person’s blood stream through their lungs and cause heart diseases.
The frequent dust storms here carry a high amount of particles which can be damaging to human lungs within a few hours.
The particulate matter here is produced from the loads of burning garbage and makes the air very hazardous to survive in.
The coat burning power plants here along with common deforestation has left the city more polluted than ever before.
Riyadh, Saudia Arabia
Riyadh experiences many sandstorms that carry tiny dust particles which are dangerous for those who inhale them.
Al Jubail, Saudia Arabia
The many big factories here contribute to the much polluted air of Al Jubail.
Pollution is the single biggest environmental and social phenomenon that we are faced with in the current times. This massive issue needs the support of every single individual living on Earth to tackle. We should all join hands and aim to reduce pollution in every way possible for ourselves and the future generations.