Study links air pollution to high blood pressure

After previous studies turned up inconclusive results, the authors of a new study published in American Heart Association’s Hypertension said they have found a correlation between short- and long-term exposure to air pollutants and the hypertension that can cause heart disease.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 17 studies conducted between 1992 and 2007 on the subject to look for a pattern between being subjected to varying levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and various particulate matter in the ozone and recording high blood pressure readings.

The study authors found that people’s short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide and particulate material and long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulate material both had “significant association” with those people developing hypertension. The other pollutants studied also showed correlation with hypertension, though less significant.

Included in the study was speculation about how such pollutants could contribute to high blood pressure. It is possible the particulate materials triggered a nervous system imbalance, messed with normal sodium levels or caused blood vessels to constrict. This association with hypertension was more pronounced in short-term than in long-term exposure.

The study noted that the previous research measured air pollutants near the participants’ homes in China, Germany, Brazil, Canada and elsewhere. They pointed out that hypertension and the heart disease it can cause are a global public health concern that now seems to be correlated with a global environmental concern.

“Given the enormous prevalence of hypertension and the ubiquitous nature of ambient air pollution exposure, we speculate that our findings between air pollutants and hypertension are of considerable and growing global public health importance,” the authors wrote in the study.

They even suggested that reducing exposure to air pollution could lead to a drop in hypertension incidence at the population level.