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06 December 2017, 09:22 | Lena Norman
EnvironmentNewsTraffic pollution in London “putting unborn babies’ health at risk”Joe Mellor
Previous BHF research has shown that long-term exposure to air pollution leads to inflammation in the blood vessels, including those supplying the heart, and promotes the build-up of fatty plaques in the linings of blood vessels, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. They estimated average monthly concentrations of traffic-related pollutants by looking at the mother's home address at the time of birth.
They argue the study should "increase awareness that prenatal exposure to small particle air pollution is detrimental to the unborn child", but stress that increasing awareness without solutions "may serve only to increase maternal anxiety and guilt".
According to a new study, published in The Lancet, some people who take walks around city streets could be putting their health at risk.
"Babies born with low birth weight or who are small for their gestational age, are at increased risk of dying within their first month, as well as diseases in later life, such as cardiovascular disease".
They call on governments "to impose policies and measures that can reduce traffic pollution so that every individual can enjoy the health benefits of physical activity".
The researchers from Imperial College London and Duke University in the US recruited 119 people for the study who were either healthy, had stable heart disease, or stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - a type of lung disease. Volunteers walked for two hours midday at one of two London locations: in a relatively quiet part of Hyde Park or along a busy section of Oxford Street, where pollution-including black carbon, nitrogen dioxide, and fine particulate matter from diesel exhaust fumes-regularly exceeds air quality limits set by the World Health Organization.
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"Our data indicates that taking medications which improve arterial stiffness such as statins, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers may well reduce the adverse effects of air pollution in individuals with ischaemic heart disease", says Prof Chung.
The healthy participants walking along Oxford Street simply didn't get any of the positive heart and lung benefits that the Hyde Park group got.
Analysis revealed that participants benefitted from walking in the park, with lung capacity improving within the first hour and a significant lasting increase for more than 24 hours in many cases.
Likewise the increase in blood flow usually associated with exercise was virtually absent in those walking along the busy shopping street. Arteries became less stiff in those walking in Hyde Park with a maximum change from baseline of more than 24% in healthy and COPD volunteers, and more than 19% in heart disease patients. In contrast, volunteers who walked on Oxford Street had a "worrying increase" in artery stiffness following exercise.
"For many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, the only exercise they very often can do is walk", said Kian Fan Chung, the study's senior author and a professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College London, in a released statement.
"Exercise is crucial in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, but it seems unsafe levels of air pollution could be erasing these benefits in older adults".
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