Research links air pollution to heart disease

Faculty members at the USC Keck School of Medicine, along with researchers from Spain, Switzerland and other California colleges, have recently discovered that exposure to air pollution could have a significant link to the build up of plaque on artery walls.

Atherosclerosis is a coronary artery disease in which arteries become thinner due to fatty buildup on arterial walls, blocking blood flow. This causes arteries to stiffen and blood pressure to increase leading to strokes and heart attacks.

“The fact that we can detect progression of atherosclerosis in relation to ambient air pollution above and beyond other well-established risk factors indicates that environmental factors may play a larger role in the risk for cardiovascular disease than previously suspected,” said Howard N. Hodis, director of the USC Atherosclerosis Research Unit and professor of medicine and preventive medicine at the university in a press release.

One study included more than 1,000 Los Angeles residents as its participants, and investigators found that those living within 100 meters of high traffic corridors, such as freeways, had an accelerated progression of artery wall thickness of 5.5 micrometers a year, more than twice the annual development of people who lived further away.

In recent years animal studies have shown that certain particle matter from traffic and other outdoor air pollutants can accelerate atherosclerosis, but the Keck study is the first of its kind to investigate the relationship in humans.