If you look outside and don’t see any smog, you probably figure the air is clean and healthy.
But a new study shows an invisible substance in the air is likely causing your heart to undergo “remodeling.”1
This is not a good thing. It is a response to air pollution. And it’s happening even to people in small towns who live in areas where the air looks clear.
The study was conducted by scientists from Queen Mary University of London. They looked at people without underlying heart problems. They checked the subjects’ heart function, and the size and weight of their hearts.
The researchers found a clear link between exposure to a type of air pollution called PM2.5 and enlarged right and left heart ventricles.
PM2.5 stands for particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers wide. That’s so small that it is invisible. A human hair is about 70 micrometers wide. So this is about 30 times smaller.2
Particles this tiny are extremely dangerous. When you inhale them, they travel deep into the lungs. From there, they can go to your heart. 3
The ventricle enlargement seen in the study is a type of “cardiac remodeling.” This refers to any changes in the size, mass, shape, and function of the heart.4
It’s associated with serious heart dysfunction and rhythm disorders.
The people in the study did not live in the sort of big cities you might associate with air pollution. Most were in smaller towns where the air looked and smelled clean. The primary source of PM2.5 are car and truck exhaust. Many small towns have major highways nearby.5
Dr. Nay Aung led the study. He said the effects of PM2.5 on the heart are comparable to having high blood pressure or never exercising.
3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Invisible Air Pollution
How can you protect yourself? Here are three strategies to reduce your intake of PM2.5:
- Get a HEPA filter. This is a mechanical air filter. (HEPA stands for “high-efficiency particulate air.”) These units are usually small and portable and work just for the room they are placed in. Get one and use it in areas of your home where you spend the most time.
- Don’t exercise near busy streets. If you jog or do any sort of outdoor exercising, keep to parks and nature trails. Don’t run alongside roads where car exhaust saturates the air. You might also consider buying a treadmill and running at home, if possible.
- Protect yourself in your car. Since vehicle exhaust is the primary source of PM2.5, you are in most danger when you’re on the road. Professor Stephen Holgate works on the British Medical Research Council. He says air pollution is “nine to 12 times higher inside the car than outside.”6
Most cars don’t have a climate control system that can filter out PM2.5. The exceptions are high-end cars made by BMW, Mercedes, and Tesla. But you may be able to buy an aftermarket HEPA filter to replace your car’s cabin filter. Bosch makes one.
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