Most people know that breathing in chemicals is detrimental to lung health, but new research may make us think twice about general air pollution. Researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center recently found that air pollution can increase your risk of stroke by 34 percent, even when it is at or below levels considered safe by federal regulations.
The study followed more than 1,700 stroke patients in the Boston area over 10 years and found that air pollution caused by vehicle traffic was closely linked to the incidence of ischemic strokes. They noticed that days when the Environmental Protection Agency's air quality index for particulate matter was yellow instead of green, ambient fine particulate matter seemed to increase a person's risk of this type of stroke.
You may think that breathing in polluted air could cause lung conditions like lung cancer or chronic bronchitis, but stroke risk is increased because the particles travel into the lungs and through the blood stream to the heart.
"The link between increased stroke risk and these particulates can be observed within hours of exposure and are most strongly associated with pollution from local or transported traffic emissions," said study author Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, a physician in the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Any proposed changes in regulated pollution levels must consider the impact of lower levels on public health."