I Heart Clean Air: Pollution And Heart Health

BY ON March 20, 2012

Embroidered heart and lung graphic

I’m a vegetarian, a runner, and a yogi. I take pretty good care of myself—but I know that I start out behind in terms of my heart health. I know I will have to monitor it closely as I (shudder) grow older.

That is because heart disease runs in my family. It comes from both sets of grandparents. There have been lots of bypass surgeries in our history, and some of the men have died far too young from heart disease.

For too long, people have considered health conditions and the environment separate issues. They were not looked at as an interconnected ecosystem.

Take heart health and air pollution. More and more research is showing the powerful link between clean air and heart health.

How does air pollution affect the heart?

Air quality affects blood pressure and blood vessels. According to this study described in Time magazine:

“Scientists at the University of Michigan, led by Dr. Robert Brook, found that the quality of air you breathe can immediately increase your blood pressure, and cause unhealthy changes in your blood vessels that last for hours and perhaps even days.”

Hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. How does this really work?  According to the article, after exposure to unclean air:

“First, the fine matter triggers changes in the central nervous system, causing a switch from the more controlled regulation of body processes to a more instinctive, automatic fight-or-flight response. This revs up the heartbeat and causes blood pressure to spike as the body may be responding to the presence of foreign, potentially dangerous particles in the air.”

And after this exposure, some fine particulate matter stays in the lungs, causing inflammation. This can cause blood vessels to stiffen, reduce their flexibility, and weaken blood vessels, which can increase the risk of heart disease or stroke.

The body is constantly working to protect itself, but this is an example of how that can backfire and actually hurt us.

What are the main types of pollution that do the most harm?

Sulfur Dioxide

This gas is produced by coal-burning power plants and from factories that make chemicals, paper, or fuel. Sulfur dioxide reacts in the atmosphere to form acid rain and particles.  These particles can lodge deep in the lungs, worsening respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Fine particulate air pollution

These particles come from motor vehicle exhaust and power plant emissions. Studies have shown “a strong association between high concentrations of fine particle pollution and increased mortality from cardiopulmonary illness. Additional studies have shown that particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter—about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair—are more harmful to lung tissue than the larger particles.”

Carbon monoxide

Coal plants generate carbon monoxide. In an average year, 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO) is produced, which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease.

Advocate for Clean Air and Heart Health

We know that our body systems are interconnected. These strong connections between air quality and heart health are even more important for our children. Their developing systems are impacted by pollutants and toxins more than fully grown bodies. They have years of exposure ahead of themselves in an increasingly polluted world.

Moms, we MUST be advocates for heart health and clean air! They are so interrelated and interdependent. We can team with other health organizations and work for cleaner air and healthier hearts.

How?  You are in the right place!

*Join Moms Clean Air Force and advocate for cleaner air.

*Support the EPA in the Mercury Air Toxics Rule and the Cross State Pollution Rule, both which will save lives, improve the public health (including heart health!)

*Elect officials who see the connections between the environment, our bodies, and exposures to toxins.

Has heart disease affected your family? What do you think about the connection between heart health and air pollution?


Credit: Embroidery, Andrea Dezso Illustration

TOPICS: Activism, Coal, Dads, Pollution