It is no secret that air pollution is bad for the human body but new studies have shown that the prognosis could actually be far worse than previously suggested.
Researchers in Shanghai have found that breathing in dirty air, polluted with microscopic particulate matter from car exhausts and industrial sources, causes stress hormones in the body to spike and alter our metabolism.
This information could help explain why long-term exposure to urban pollution is associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a shorter life span.
The study, conducted by Dr. Haidong Kan of Fudan University, China, looked at 55 healthy students in Shanghai, and asked whether proactive changes to your localised environment could change the impact of pollution.
Half of the students were given working air purifiers in their dormitory rooms, which cut exposure from 53 micrograms per cubic metre of air to 50% less at 24.3 micrograms, while the other half were given non-working filters for nine days.
After a 12-day break period, they then switched the filters so that those with previously working filters, now had the non-functioning ones and vice versa.
Measuring the student’s urine and blood after the trial, they found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol, cortisone, epinephrine and norepinephrine rose with dirtier air, as did levels of blood sugar, amino acids, fatty acids and lipids.
Higher exposure was also related to higher blood pressure, worse response to insulin, and markers of molecular stress on body tissues.
Dr. Haidong Kan, who worked on the study, told Reuters Health: “Our result may indicate that particulate matter could affect the human body in more ways than we currently know. Thus, it is increasingly necessary for people to understand the importance of reducing their PM exposure.”
It also lead to suggestions that if individuals use preventative measures, such as air purifiers, they could be helping their heart in the long term.
According to the World Health Organisation, in Europe alone, exposure to particulate matter (PM) decreases the life expectancy of every person by an average of almost 1 year, mostly due to increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and lung cancer.