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Reducing air pollution can prevent heart attacks

According to preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2021, reduced air pollution in the United States during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 was linked to fewer severe heart attacks.

“Reducing pollution is not only helpful for the environment it may also have significant health benefits at the population level such as preventing heart attacks,” said study lead author Sidney Aung, a medical student at the University of California, San Francisco.

Heart attack is the leading cause of death in the United States. Besides risk factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol or physical inactivity, air pollution can also increase the frequency of heart attacks, according to a 2020 American Heart Association policy statement.

By reviewing daily pollution measurements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the first months of lockdown and data regarding heart attacks in the U.S. population, Aung and his colleagues found that with each 10 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) drop in particulate matter 2.5 (a common type of air pollutant containing microscopic pieces of solid substances), the number of heart attacks decreased by 6 percent.

“This study highlights the importance of reducing air pollution, which could, in turn, prevent heart attacks,” Aung said. “We also hope our study may influence other investigators to pursue similar research to corroborate these results or to investigate other forms of air pollutants outside of particulate matter 2.5 that may have also declined during the pandemic lockdowns.”

“If it turns out that we can meaningfully link a reduction in traffic-related air pollution during COVID lockdowns to a reduction in heart attacks, it points the way toward a major change that could help to reduce the burden of heart disease. We know how to reduce air pollution concentrations and have seen that it is possible,” added Joel Kaufman, the chair of the American Heart Association’s 2020 policy statement on air pollution.

“This could reinforce the benefits of air pollution reduction as a cost-effective way to improve health. It also means that reducing fossil fuel combustion, which we need to do anyway to combat climate change, may yield tremendous health benefits now, even if the climate benefits take years to accrue,” he concluded.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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