Study finds air pollution increases stress and heart disease risk

Credit: Alex Gindin/ Unsplash.

A comprehensive study conducted across more than 3,000 US counties, encompassing 315 million residents, reveals a significant link between air pollution, mental health issues, and an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, particularly in people under 65.

This research was presented at ESC Preventive Cardiology 2024.

Dr. Shady Abohashem from Harvard Medical School, the lead author of the study, emphasized the profound impact of air quality on mental health, which in turn influences heart health.

The study comes in the wake of findings by the World Health Organization that attribute 4.2 million premature deaths globally to air pollution in 2019 alone. Mental illness is also a recognized factor in premature mortality.

The research focused on fine particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, known as PM2.5. These particles, primarily emitted from vehicles, power plants, and wood burning, pose the most significant health risks.

The study used county-level annual data on PM2.5 levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), classifying them as high or low based on WHO standards.

Researchers also evaluated mental health by examining county data on the average number of days residents reported issues like stress, depression, and emotional problems, sourced from the CDC.

Counties were then grouped into thirds based on these mental health days, with the top third reporting the most days of poor mental health.

Analyzing data from 3,047 counties, representing a population of over 315 million in 2013, the study noted 1,079,656 cardiovascular deaths before the age of 65 between 2013 and 2019.

By adjusting for various influencing factors, the research established connections among pollution levels, mental health, and premature cardiovascular mortality.

Findings showed that counties with higher levels of PM2.5 were 10% more likely to report numerous days of poor mental health compared to those with cleaner air.

This correlation was even more pronounced in areas with higher poverty rates or a greater prevalence of minority groups.

Moreover, the link between poor mental health and premature cardiovascular mortality was strongest in counties exceeding WHO-recommended levels of air pollution. Here, elevated mental health issues were associated with a threefold increase in the risk of premature cardiovascular deaths.

Dr. Abohashem concluded that air pollution not only deteriorates mental health but also substantially increases the risk of heart-related deaths linked to these mental health challenges.

He stressed the need for urgent public health strategies that address both air quality and mental well-being to safeguard cardiovascular health. This dual approach is crucial for mitigating the combined threat of air pollution and mental health on heart disease.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease, and scientists find how COVID-19 damages the heart.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about Aspirin linked to higher risk of heart failure, and results showing Blackcurrants could improve artery functions, blood pressure in older people.

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