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By Dr. Mercola
Air pollution and noise pollution often go hand-
in-hand, as some of the most heavily air-polluted areas
are also those near loud busy roadways and airports.
Because of this connection, some have tried to
dismiss studies linking air pollution to increased
heart risks, blaming it on the noise in the area
instead and vice versa.
Now new research has settled this point of
contention, as it looked at air pollution and noise
pollution simultaneously and found that each form of
pollution was independently associated with heart
risks, specifically subclinical atherosclerosis, or
hardening of the arteries.
Air Pollution and Noise Pollution: A Double Whammy to
If you live near a busy highway, you’re likely
being simultaneously exposed to two major pollution
sources that can harm your heart: air pollution and
noise pollution from the traffic.
In a German study of more than 4,200 people,
researchers used a measure of arterial hardening
known as “thoracic aortic calcification” (TAC) to
estimate heart risks. Exposure to fine particle air
pollution increased TAC scores by nearly 20 percent
while exposure to noise pollution increased TAC by
about 8 percent.
This was after controlling for other variables that
may influence heart health, such as age, gender,
smoking, physical activity, alcohol use and more.
What this means is that people living in high-risk
areas need to account for both types of pollution to
protect their heart health. As researchers noted:
Both exposures seem to be important and both
must be considered on a population level, rather than
focusing on just one hazard."
Air Pollution Is Strongly Tied to Heart Risks
You may think air pollution mostly impacts your
lungs, but it actually has a serious impact on your
heart, as well. In fact, the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 5 percent or
more of heart disease deaths may be related to air
For starters, it’s known that exposure to one type
of air pollution, ozone, may trigger inflammation of
your vascular system, increasing risk factors associated
with heart disease.
Ozone exposure has also been linked to a change in
heart rate variability and a reduction in the ability
of blood clots to dissolve, both of which can lead to
Additional research published in the journal PLoS
Medicine, showed that, on average, the thickness of
the carotid artery increased by 0.014 millimeters per
year after other risk factors such as smoking were
Those who had higher levels of exposure to fine
particulate air pollution experienced thickening of the
inner two layers of the carotid artery (which supplies
blood to your head) quicker than those exposed to
lower levels of pollution. According to the authors:
"Linking these findings with other results from
the same population suggests that persons living in a
more polluted part of town may have a 2 percent higher
risk of stroke as compared to people in a less polluted
part of the same metropolitan area.
For people with existing heart conditions the risk
may be even steeper, with one study showing that
breathing exhaust fumes from heavy traffic may trigger
a heart attack among this population a risk that
continues for up to six hours afterward as well. Simply
being in heavy traffic has even been found to triple
the risk of suffering from a heart attack!
Interestingly, both fine particle matter air
pollution and noise pollution are believed to increase
your cardiovascular disease risk through similar
biologic pathways, including by causing an imbalance in
your autonomic nervous system (ANS). Your ANS is
intricately involved in regulating biological functions
such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, clotting
How Does Noise Pollution Harm Your Heart?
According to research published in Environmental
Health Perspectives, long-term exposure to traffic
noise may account for approximately 3 percent of
coronary heart disease deaths (or about 210,000 deaths)
in Europe each year. But how exactly does noise harm
One of the key ways is by elevating stress hormones
such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, which,
over time, can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and
heart failure. One review of research showed that
arousal associated with nighttime noise exposure
increased blood and saliva concentrations of these
hormones even during sleep. Deepak Prasher, a professor
of audiology at University College in London and a
member of the WHO Noise Environmental Burden
on Disease working group, states:
Many people become habituated to noise over
time The biological effects are imperceptible, so that
even as you become accustomed to the noise, adverse
physiological changes are nevertheless taking place,
with potentially serious consequences to human health
Taken together, recent epidemiologic data show us that
noise is a major stressor that can influence health
through the endocrine, immune, and cardiovascular
The impact can be significant. Among women who
judge themselves to be sensitive to noise, chronic
noise exposure increased the risk of cardiovascular
mortality by 80 percent! Chronic noise exposure also
leads to health risks beyond your heart, such as
hearing loss, diminished productivity, sleep
disruption, impaired learning and more. Air pollution
similarly causes wide-reaching risks to health
Air Pollution Also Tied to Hyperactivity in Kids
In related news, a study found that children
exposed to traffic-related air pollution before their
first birthday had a higher risk of hyperactivity at
the age of 7. The research suggests that air pollution
may be having a negative impact on brain development,
possibly by causing blood vessels to constrict or
causing toxic buildup in the brain.
Noise pollution has also been tied to risks
specifically in children, including an impairment in
reading comprehension and long-term memory
among those exposed to chronic aircraft noise. Like
adults, children living near heavy traffic areas may
be at significant risks of health issues from exposure
to both noise and air pollution simultaneously.
Thank You Dr. Mercola
Continued on 4/21/14
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