Sources of Toxic Exposures:Traffic, Personal Care and Plastic Products

Air pollution and chemicals found in common household- and personal care goods are major sources of exposure that can lead to an accumulation of toxins in your body.

Recent news articles have highlighted a number of sources of such toxic exposures, as well as new research linking traffic pollution to higher risk of heart disease.

The best advice I could give you should you happen to live in a heavily populated area is to move, but I realized that isn’t always a practical option.

For most people, it’s better to focus your attention on your immediate environment, which you have more, if not full, control over. After all, what you put on, in, and keep around your body on a daily basis is going to have the greatest impact on your health.
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Traffic Pollution Increases Risk of Heart Disease and Heart Attack

According to a German study presented at the EuroPRevent 2013 congress in Rome, long-term exposure to fine particle matter air pollution is associated with atherosclerosis.

“The study was based on data from the German Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study, a population-based cohort… with a mean age of 60 years…

Results showed that in the 4,238 subjects included in the study, small particulate matter and proximity to major roads were both associated with an increasing level of aortic calcification—for every increase in particle volume up to 2.4 micrometers the degree of calcification increased by 20.7 percent and for every 100 meter proximity to heavy traffic by 10 percent.”

Previous research has also identified traffic noise as a risk factor, and this latest study confirms that both small particulate matter and sound pollution are independently associated with subclinical atherosclerosis. According to Dr. Hagen Kälsch, who presented the research:

“These two major types of traffic emissions help explain the observed associations between living close to high traffic and subclinical atherosclerosis… The considerable size of the associations underscores the importance of long-term exposure to air pollution and road traffic noise as risk factors for atherosclerosis.”

Interestingly, both noise and fine particle matter are believed to increase your cardiovascular disease risk through similar biologic pathways, namely by causing an imbalance in your autonomic nervous system (ANS). Your ANS is intricately involved in regulating biological functions such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, clotting and viscosity.

Another study by a French research team found that all the main traffic pollutants, with the exception of ozone, were strongly associated with an increased risk for heart attack. These pollutants include:

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  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Particulate matter

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Reducing Air Pollution Can Alleviate Atherosclerosis

A third study, this one by American researchers, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, involved nearly 5,400 participants in six US cities between the ages of 45 and 84. None of the subjects had heart disease. Air pollution levels were measured at each participant’s home, and then compared to ultrasound measurements of their blood vessels. Both levels were then rechecked at least three years later.

On average, the thickness of the carotid artery increased by 0.014 millimeters per year after other risk factors such as smoking were accounted for. Those who had higher levels of exposure to fine particulate air pollution experienced thickening of the inner two layers of the carotid artery (which supplies blood to your head) quicker than those exposed to lower levels of pollution. According to the authors:

“Linking these findings with other results from the same population suggests that persons living in a more polluted part of town may have a 2 percent higher risk of stroke as compared to people in a less polluted part of the same metropolitan area.”

The good news is that reducing exposure to fine particulate air pollution can help slow the thickening of your carotid artery. An accompanying PLoS commentary urges policy makers to take note and enforce science-based clean air standards to help reduce healthcare costs:

“It has been known since the last century that ambient air pollution can trigger acute cardiovascular morbidities, and a comparative risk assessment of established triggers of myocardial infarctions concluded that a rather substantial fraction of these acute and life-threatening events can be attributed to current levels of air pollution. However, it is of importance to understand the causes of atherosclerosis, given that its prevention or deceleration could drastically delay and reduce the burden of CVDs…

In sum, the MESA study further supports an old request to policy makers, namely that clean air standards ought to comply at least with the science-based levels proposed by the World Health Organization. And we know it works: better air quality improves health—in rabbit, mice, men, and women alike.”