Is Pollution Hurting Your Heart?
In a recent edition of Waking Lionheart, I talked about chelation therapy and how medicine is refusing to acknowledge a study showing it cuts the risk of death from heart disease . Chelation therapy, if you’ve never heard of it, uses the chemical EDTA to bind heavy metals—and possibly other pollutants—and remove them from your body. It’s been used for decades as a treatment for heavy metal poisoning, and alternative practitioners have been offering it as a treatment for heart disease for almost as long.
The study in question backed up that practice. It found that chelation lowered the number of deaths from heart disease significantly—as much as 43% in people with diabetes. Unfortunately Big Medicine is busy trying to make this study go away rather than asking why chelation appears to help. If they did, they might find the answer in one simple phrase: air pollution.
The American Heart Association has been warning about air pollution since 2004
If you’re a regular reader, you might be surprised to see me endorsing anything the AHA says. And it’s true—I generally take their recommendations with a grain of salt. All too often their motivation is to promote a class of drugs or an expensive procedure and keep you dependent on Big Pharma.
But in this case they don’t seem to have an axe to grind. No one associated with the AHA is making a buck off of reducing air pollution, after all. And the science linking air pollution and heart disease is steadily stacking up. It’s looking more and more like air pollution doesn’t just aggravate existing heart problems but might be a primary cause.
Consider this: we already know that places with heavy smog have high rates of heart disease. And we know that there are more hospitalizations and heart deaths when smog levels are particularly bad. Not surprisingly, medicine hasn’t paid much attention to this fact. It’s been assumed that pollution somehow aggravates existing heart disease, but researchers haven’t exactly been falling over themselves to find out why. It’s just been accepted that this the way things are and they’re not likely to change.
But that doesn’t mean that no one is looking into the question. Researchers from Brigham Young University decided to tackle the issue, and what they found shows that air pollution has a more profound effect on the cardiovascular system than anyone imagined.
Air pollution may trigger heart disease in young people
Their study did what no one had bothered to do before. It looked at healthy young adults rather than older folks who already had heart disease. They collected blood from these young people when pollution levels were both low and high. They were particularly interested in something called PM 2.5 pollution, which consists of very small particles that can be absorbed into the bloodstream. This is the type of pollution that comes from vehicle exhausts and other fossil fuel combustion, from industry, and even from wood smoke.
They found when pollution levels were high, the participants’ cardiovascular systems were suffering some serious damage. Their bodies’ immune systems kicked into gear and they had inflammation going on. Their blood had high levels of dead cells from the lining of blood vessels and lungs. And on top of that, the levels of chemicals that promote blood vessel growth dropped.
In other words, the pollution was causing their bodies to mount an immune response. It was damaging the lining of their blood vessels while keeping their bodies from properly repairing themselves.
In the short term, this might be something the body can overcome. For instance, visiting a heavily polluted area for a few days or weeks could cause some damage, but your body could repair the damage once the exposure was over. But chronic exposure—living in a smog-filled city or near a busy road, for example—is another story. Chronic exposure means chronic inflammation and ongoing damage…and heart disease on down the line.
How do you reduce your exposure to air pollution?
The most effective way to avoid outdoor air pollution is, not surprisingly, to stay indoors as much as possible on high-pollution days. You can check your area’s air quality forecast at airnow.gov. On days when pollution is expected to be high, limit your time outdoors.
Your car—and other people’s exhaust—is also a big source of pollution. Avoid sitting in traffic if at all possible. If you are stuck in traffic, run your air conditioner or heater (depending on the weather) and make sure it’s set to recirculate rather than pulling in outside air. If you live in an area with high pollution, this is something you should do whenever you get in your car, not just when pollution is particularly bad.
In your home, run your air conditioner rather than leaving windows open on high pollution days.
Indoor air pollution can also be a problem. Have your heating and cooling system serviced twice per year—before you start your furnace up in the fall and before you turn on the air conditioner in the warm months. Have your ducts cleaned once per year. Make sure you change your air filters regularly year round.
Other steps you can take to improve indoor air quality include:
- Avoid harsh chemical household cleaners
- Avoid scented candles or air fresheners (try essential oils and an oil diffuser instead)
- Check the humidity levels in your house—if the humidity is more than 50%, try a dehumidifier.
And of course, don’t smoke indoors. If you must smoke, take it outside.
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