COULD CAR EXHAUST FUMES CAUSE DEMENTIA? We All Know Air Pollution Damages Our Lungs. but New Research Reveals Other Worrying Dangers

Daily Mail (London), December 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

COULD CAR EXHAUST FUMES CAUSE DEMENTIA? We All Know Air Pollution Damages Our Lungs. but New Research Reveals Other Worrying Dangers


Byline: CHLOE LAMBERT

CHRISTMAS shopping is undoubtedly stressful, but who knew it could give you a heart attack?

This month, scientists warned that air pollution levels are so high on London's Oxford Street that spending just two hours there can cause significant stiffening of the arteries.

In susceptible people, this can cause blockage, cutting off blood supply to the heart leading to a heart attack. The effects on arteries lasted for 24 hours after exposure and were seen both in people with existing health conditions and healthy volunteers.

It's the latest in a flurry of reports warning of the dangers of air pollution. Exposure to fumes from factories and vehicles, particularly diesel engines, is now widely agreed to have both instant and long-term effects on the body.

Scientists from King's College London even warned this week that woodburning stoves are contributing to harmful levels of air pollution.

Government figures show that 28,000 deaths every year in the UK are related to contaminated air -- largely due to heart and lung problems and cancer.

Just last week, a group of MPs called for planning guidelines to be changed so schools and care homes could no longer be built near pollution hotspots.

'Although pollution is invisible, it can be toxic to the human body,' says Jonathan Grigg, professor of paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at Queen Mary University of London. 'We are seeing many effects -- the more we look at, the more we find.

'It can make existing conditions worse and it can have a role in setting the scene for new conditions to develop.

'We are finding that being exposed in the womb, or during childhood, can impair development of the lungs. That imprint carries on throughout your whole life and raises the risk of problems such as asthma.'

The culprits are tiny particles of carbon, found in air polluted by traffic or factory emissions, known as PM10s and, particularly, PM2.5s.

These are particles less than ten or 2.5 microns wide -- a micron being a millionth of a metre. When we breathe in, mucus in the airways traps dust and pollutants to stop them getting into the body. But PM10s and PM2.5s are so small they get past this filtering system. Cities are the areas where pollution levels tend to be highest, but people in the countryside can be affected too if they live or work near a busy road.

And while experts believe the most important step is to reduce car use, there are steps you can take to minimise the impact: for example, take quieter streets instead of main roads where you can -- especially if you have a heart or lung condition -- and during summer months, avoid running or cycling in the afternoons when pollution levels are highest.

Here, we look at the problems linked to the air we breathe ...

DIRTY AIR WILL GIVE YOU WRINKLES

POLLUTED urban air speeds up ageing of the skin by 10 per cent. A study of 200 women in Beijing found that regardless of lifestyle and cleaning regimens, those living in the most polluted districts had more damage and inflammation to their skin, which accelerates the formation of wrinkles.

'Pollutants seem to aggravate the effect of UVA light [the component in sunlight that causes wrinkles] causing inflammation in the skin,' says Bav Shergill, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation trustee.

'This damages collagen, which forms the structural integrity of skin. Losing it is a bit like losing the stuffing in a mattress. It makes skin look saggy and older.'

Air pollution has also been linked to melasma -- brown patches found on the face. These are most common in women and are driven by the hormone oestrogen, but UVA rays contaminated by pollution may worsen the problem.

Pollution can also worsen inflammation in people with eczema. Dr Shergill advises keeping a good cleaning routine, and keeping skin moisturised. …

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