Pollution and the Heart: a Dangerous Relationship


Versione Italiana

There are many polluting agents, and when we talk about pollution, we generally refer to vehicle exhaust fumes. In reality, air pollution is made up of gaseous, semi-volatile, liquid substances and fine and ultrafine particulates, that is, of very small size, not visible to the naked eye. Pollutants also have natural origins, just think of volcanic eruptions and some of the forest fires that are partly linked to human activities. The world of pollutants is therefore complex, and these agents interact with our organism in various ways depending on their characteristics: some are inhaled, breathed, others ingested, while others are absorbed through our skin and our mucous membranes. However, above all it is the semi-volatile substances, gases and particulates that, once “breathed”, overcome the fine defense barriers that protect our vessels from the outside, penetrate our circulatory system and both directly and indirectly damage our organs. They do particular damage to our heart and specifically the entire cardiovascular system, therefore not only the heart but also vessels and all the organs that our vascular system perfuses and “nourishes”.

If we think, for example, of what was recently written in all the newspapers regarding the “Sahara Sand” which dyed the skies of many cities red, including that of Rome, and the related invitation to keep the windows closed and stay at home, we understand many things. If every day we add to natural phenomena things that are not sporadic events like the Sahara sand, but a constant, such as pollutants derived from heating systems, exhaust gases, all “fumes” and not just cigarette smoke, the air we breathe loses its physiological characteristics and carries with it substances that are extremely harmful to health, in particular to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Air pollution has been responsible for a staggering number of deaths worldwide in recent years, around nine million, and many more than half of these have been related to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases such as acute heart attack and stroke. It is necessary to keep in mind that most energy (60 – 80 percent), currently derived from substrates that generate pollution, is consumed in the most urbanized areas, therefore in cities, and it is estimated that the majority of the European population, about two thirds, already lives in urban areas or in cities, and that this city population is destined to rise. The estimates are that in 2050, 75 percent of the world’s population will be concentrated in urban areas.

An important point to take into consideration is related to the fact that we live in a single large environment, the terraqueous globe and the atmosphere that surrounds it. Therefore, everything that seemingly happens far from our urban centers is also actually very close, and via air currents, surface conduits and marine “roads” reaches every place and adds to the pollutants present locally.

How do the substances we breathe damage the heart and vessels? They overcome the “defense barriers”, invisible to the naked eye, and inflame and stress all our organs and systems. This type of stress, the most dangerous of all stresses, is called “oxidative stress”.

“Oxidative stress” contributes to triggering mechanisms that alone or in association with the known “risk factors” for cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, increased blood cholesterol and associated with cigarette smoking and all the other codified factors, including obesity and physical inactivity, not only increase the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, but also of disability and therefore a continuation of life as an invalid despite the lengthening of the average lifespan.

Pollutants affect infants before birth if the mother is exposed during pregnancy, and they act deleteriously throughout life, adding to and strengthening the risk factors present in each individual. The damage is greater and more rapid in those in whom full-blown cardiovascular pathologies are already present. For example, in all individuals who have already had a heart attack.

There are national and international guidelines formulated specifically for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, but all of them, even the most recent, focus almost exclusively on individual behaviors and metabolic risk factors (diabetes and increased cholesterol values for example). To date, pollution reduction has not received the attention it deserves in cardiovascular disease prevention and control programs. Making attention to pollution reduction a part of cardiovascular disease prevention programs and beyond could save millions of lives.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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Pollution and the Heart: a Dangerous Relationship ultima modifica: 2024-06-12T16:45:25+02:00 da S. SCIOMER F. MOSCUCCI S. GALLINA A.V. MATTIOLI
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