A new study published in Frontiers in Public Health has shown that increased air pollution is associated with multimorbidity, or the co-occurrence of multiple physical and mental health conditions.
The cross-sectional study used data from over 360,000 participants in the UK Biobank. Home address data from the participants was used to estimate exposure to air pollution, which was then compared to the participants’ physical and mental health data. Multimorbidity was assessed based on the presence of 41 different physical and mental health conditions.
Strikingly, participants who were exposed to higher levels (over 10µg/m3) of fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, had a 21% increased risk of experiencing multimorbidity compared to participants who were exposed to lower levels of fine particulate matter (under 10µg/m3). PM 2.5 is commonly caused by vehicle exhaust and forest fires. High levels (over 30µg/m3) of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant caused primarily by burning of fossil fuels such as coal and gas, was associated with a 20% increased risk of multimorbidity compared to less exposure (under 30µg/m3).
The senior author of the study noted that the mechanisms behind the negative health impacts of pollution are not fully understood, but they may be caused by a combination of inflammation, oxidative stress, and immune response. These, in turn, may lead to damage to various parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, and brain. The strongest associations between pollution and long-term health conditions tended to relate to the respiratory system and the cardiovascular system, although mental and neurological conditions, such as depression and anxiety, also had clear links. As pollution from vehicles and wildfires increases, awareness of exposure to pollutants will become increasingly important for maintaining optimal health.
Sources: Frontiers in Public Health, Science Daily