(NaturalNews) Exposure to urban pollution may be a cause of high blood pressure, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Dusiburg-Essen in Germany and presented at a meeting of the American Thoracic Society.
"Our results show that living in areas with higher levels of particle air pollution is associated with higher blood pressure," lead researcher Barbara Hoffman said.
"This finding points out that air pollution does not only trigger life-threatening events like heart attacks and strokes, but that it may also influence the underlying processes, which lead to chronic cardiovascular diseases," she said. "It is therefore necessary to further our attempts to prevent chronic exposure to high air pollution as much as possible."
Prior studies have shown that short-term spikes in the levels of air pollutants lead to equivalent increases in blood pressure, but little research had been done on the effects of longer-term exposure. In the current study, the researchers recorded air pollution levels over the course of a year, and compared this with blood-pressure readings among 5,000 residents of those areas over the course of four years.
The researchers found that after adjusting for potential confounding factors such as age, gender, smoking and weight, increased exposure to fine particulate matter was significantly correlated with higher blood pressure. The effect was stronger in women than in men.
Fine particulate matter is produced primarily by automobiles, power plants, heating and industry.
Although blood pressure is known to increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), the current study could not prove that exposure to air pollution would actually produce heart disease. In their next study, the researchers plan to look for that connection directly.
"There is extensive ongoing research into the link between air pollution and heart disease," said Judy O'Sullivan of the British Heart Foundation. "This will help us understand what needs to be done to minimize harm to heart health and protect people most at risk from pollution."