You hardly need to be a physician to suspect that air pollution can’t be good for your health. Yet many of us tend to underestimate the potentially harmful consequences of being exposed to air pollution, which has been linked with a wide variety of ailments and conditions from learning difficulties in children to Alzheimer’s disease in adults and from pulmonary diseases to diabetes.
Here comes an unsettling bit of news: even at relatively low levels, air pollution can over time cause harmful changes in the anatomy of a vital organ: the heart. “Exposure to ambient air pollution is strongly associated with increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” write the authors of a new study, whose findings indicate that exposure to air pollution can enlarge your heart.
Steffen Petersen, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University in London, and his colleagues examined data on more than 3,900 healthy participants with the aim of gauging their overall health, where they lived and what lifestyles they led. Then, using MRI, they took measurements of the participants’ hearts, looking for details such as size, weight, and function.
Their results demonstrated that there was a marked correlation between being exposed to nitrogen oxide from living next to a busy road in places like London and developing enlarged right and left heart ventricles. “Ventricle enlargement of this type is often seen in the early stages of heart failure,” notes Medical News Today.
The researchers also “found a dose-response relationship between pollution exposure and changes in heart anatomy. Using fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to measure air pollution particles, the scientists found that the heart ventricles enlarged by 1 percent for every microgram of PM2.5 per cubic meter and for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter of NO2.”
So now you know. “Doctors and the general public all need to be aware of their exposure when they think about their heart health,” stresses Dr. Nay Aung, the first author of the paper, “just like they think about their blood pressure, their cholesterol, and their weight.”