There are many things people research when planning a vacation or business trip abroad—such as the weather, how to get around a city and where to access free Wi-Fi.
But one important piece of information that some people don’t look at is a city’s air pollution levels.
In a new study, researchers found that even a short-term visit to a severely polluted city can be detrimental to one’s health.
The research was conducted by a team at UCLA and Peking University in Beijing.
The study involved 26 non-smoking, healthy adults (with a mean age of 23.8 years) who traveled from Los Angeles to Beijing during the summers of 2014 and 2015 over a 10-week period.
Neither Beijing nor Los Angeles is known for its clean air, but Beijing’s air quality is much worse.
The concentration of airborne particles in Beijing was on average 371% higher than in Los Angeles during the time of the study.
The participants were split into two groups and blood samples were taken in the first group at eight weeks and in the second group at six weeks after arrival in Beijing.
The participants experienced strong health changes during their time in Beijing, including higher levels of oxidized fats, causing increased heart inflammation; and a change in enzyme function, which is associated with heart disease.
The study also found that these individuals had up to an 800% greater concentration of air pollutants in their bodies than they did when in Los Angeles.
The good news is that when they returned to Los Angeles, most of the negative health effects largely reversed within four to seven weeks.
The new study is the first to look specifically at the heart health effects of short-term air pollution exposure in humans, and notably, in healthy humans.
The team says Beijing is only one of many highly polluted cities that draws millions of tourists and business travelers each year.
Several other cities in China and India are among the most polluted in the world. Even London and Paris have pollution levels that exceed the legal limits set by the World Health Organization.
Frequent travelers may find it reassuring to know that the study’s participants returned almost completely to their normal, healthy states after getting back to Los Angeles.
However, some might think twice before boarding a plane for an extended visit to one of the aforementioned cities.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Jesus Araujo, professor of medicine and director of environmental cardiology.
The study is published in the journal Circulation from the American Heart Association.
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