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Living next to roads increases air pollution exposure, can lead to sudden cardiac death in women

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(NaturalNews) Women who live near major roads are significantly more likely to die from sudden cardiac death, according to a study conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School and published in the journal Circulation. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

"It's important for healthcare providers to recognize that environmental exposures may be under-appreciated risk factors for diseases such as sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary heart disease," lead author Jaime E. Hart, ScD, said. "On a population level, living near a major roadway was as important a risk factor as smoking, diet or obesity."

Forty percent higher risk

Sudden cardiac death refers to an abrupt, unexpected death due to heart problems.

The researchers analyzed health data from 107,130 women who had participated in the Nurses' Health Study from 1986-2012. They found that, even after controlling for other risk factors such as age, diet, exercise, race and smoking, women who lived within 50 meters (164 feet) of a major road were 38 percent more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than women who lived at least 500 meters (0.3 miles) from such a road. For every 100 meters (328 feet) closer a woman lived, her risk of sudden cardiac death went up 6 percent.

This increase in risk is comparable to that of other major cardiac risk factors, such as smoking or obesity.

Consistent with other studies, the researchers also found that living near a major road increased the risk of fatal coronary heart disease by 24 percent.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 35 million U.S. residents lived within 300 meters (984 feet) of a major road in 2009, and the number is increasing globally.

Air pollution likely to blame

The study did have some limitations. The researchers noted that they were not able to measure (and therefore control for) all known risks of sudden cardiac death. In addition, the sample was relatively homogenous, with most participants being white, of middle- to upper-socioeconomic class, and middle-aged to elderly (with an average age of 60). Further studies would be needed to see if the findings apply to other groups, as well.

Most significantly, they were not able to prove that air pollution was the cause of the increase in sudden cardiac death, though it is the most likely explanation.

"Our next step is to try to determine what specific exposures, such as air pollution, are driving the association between heart disease and major roadway proximity," Hart said.

Previous studies have demonstrated a strong connection between urban air pollution and higher death rates. One recent study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that days with high levels of particulate or ozone air pollution increased rates of
out-of-hospital cardiac arrest several days later.

Another study, published in the journal BMC Public Health in 2007, found that living in a major city posed a greater risk of death than living in the contaminated area around Chernobyl.

The researchers found that the cancer death rate among emergency workers who responded to the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown and among those who continued to live in the "exclusion zone" was 1 percent higher than normal. In contrast, people living in central London were 2.8 times more likely to die of heart or lung disease than those living in Inverness, the least polluted city in the United Kingdom.

"Populations still living unofficially in the abandoned lands around Chernobyl may actually have a lower health risk... than they would have if they were exposed to air pollution in a large city, such as nearby Kiev," researcher Jim Smith wrote.








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