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Study Shows Air Pollution Can Speed Hardening of the Arteries

Atherosclerosis Image-Clean Air Plus

A study from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California reveals that exposure to air pollution speeds the thickening of artery walls, which leads to cardiovascular disease. This represents the first time researchers have scientifically linked outdoor air quality with the progression of atherosclerosis. More studies are on the way, but this research cautions people about the dangers of living in  high-traffic zones and exposing themselves to air pollution. Awareness of this and steps to improve indoor air quality may reduce such hazards. A simple way to do so is to get an air purifier for your home.


Atherosclerosis is the thickening of arterial walls due to fatty build-up, like from cholesterol. It is a chronic inflammatory response that is commonly known as hardening of the arteries. For most people, the first sign of atherosclerosis is a heart attack or sudden cardiac death. It's more common in men and since it's chronic, it's also more common as you age. Atherosclerosis is considered the central underlying pathology of cardiovascular disease. Studies done on animals have established that inhaling traffic-relation air pollution like particulate matter accelerates atherosclerosis.

Research Links Air Pollution with Atherosclerosis

In the study, "Ambient Air Pollution and the Progression of Atherosclerosis in Adults," researchers looked at the association between outdoor air pollution and the progression of atherosclerosis. They took data from five randomized, double-blind trials that tested the change in atherosclerosis. Then, with researchers from the University of California at Berkeley, they used spatial models to determine the outdoor concentration of particulate matter of up to 2.5 microns. They also classified subjects' residences by their distance from traffic-related pollution. What they found was startling. For subjects who lived within 100 meters of a highway, the progression of atherosclerosis was accelerated by 5.5 microns per year, a number which is more than twice the average progression found in the population as a whole. As the researchers noted, "this is the first study to report an association between exposure to air pollution and the progression of atherosclerosis." While they don't want to generalize to the whole population, they do note that this shows how air pollution may help speed the development of heart disease. Study co-author, Dr. Howard Hodis, noted that "environmental factors may play a larger role in the risk for cardiovascular disease than previously suspected." Since heart disease is one of the leading killers of people around the world, this has significant public health consequences. The researchers have launched two new studies to look at air pollution and the early development of atherosclerosis in children and young adults.

Particulate Matter and Heart Disease

Previous studies have linked particulate matter to an increased risk of heart attack. Fine particulate matter is comprised of microscopic particles caused by the burning of fossil fuels. These particles can reach deep into the lungs and may even be able to pass directly into the bloodstream. A University of Michigan study showed that fine particulate matter both raised blood pressure and impaired the functioning of blood vessels. Blood pressure increased within 2 hours of exposure, and while blood vessels took longer to be affected, they were also impaired for a longer duration. The results were significant enough that researchers suggested that people with heart issues should stay indoors on days of poor outdoor air quality.

HEPA Purifiers for Improved Indoor Air Quality

Whether you live within 100 meters of a highway or not, HEPA air purifiers are a good way to improve air quality in your home. HEPA filters remove up to 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns. Note that researchers at USC measured particulate matter larger than this, of 2.5 microns. HEPA filters are scientifically proven to remove most particles of this size, making air purifiers an essential feature for homes located near highways. But even homes further away from highways can benefit. While homes near highways experience the highest concentration of airborne pollutants, any homes near roads will have particulate matter in the air. That's the consequence of living with automobiles. If you're concerned about potential heart disease – or even if you just want to breathe healthy, clean air – a quality HEPA air purifier is a scientifically-verified way to rid your air of many of these harmful pollutants.


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