Does your doctor keep you on a heart-healthy lifestyle by monitoring your cholesterol, red meat intake, fat calories, or by harping on you to quit smoking?
Well, maybe it’s time to focus on something obvious, something researchers in Israel have found could increase your risk of a recurring heart attack and stroke by as much as 43 percent: The air.
Their findings mimicked the results of many studies in the United States and Europe over the last decade that looked at the health effects of air pollution on humans.
Dr. Yariv Gerber at Tel Aviv University’s School of Public Health at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and researchers at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology found that cardiac patients living in highly polluted areas in Israel were over 40 percent more likely to have a second heart attack compared to a similar group living in low-pollution locales.
“Arteriosclerosis is today considered to be a disease linked to inflammation, and air-polluting particles that irritate the cells lead to inflammation, in the same way smoking cigarettes does,” Gerber told the Haaretz newspaper.
The study also found that air pollution in Israel not only contributes to chronic heart disease, but it can also increase the incidence of lung cancer, other cardio-vascular diseases and respiratory infections.
The results of the study were presented at the San Diego Epidemiological meeting of the American Heart Association in March and the annual meeting of the Israeli Heart Society in April.
In the original year-long 1992 study, 1,120 patients under 65 who had one heart attack were treated and followed through 2005, while researchers tracked pollution levels at 21 air monitoring stations near their homes, while documenting the amount of fine particulates in the air that were smaller than 2.5 microns, a size small enough to penetrate the human respiratory system.
The 2011 follow-up study found that over 19 years, the subjects who were exposed to the most pollution were 39 percent more likely to have died compared to those who lived in less polluted environments.
“Because we are using data from monitoring stations, it’s a crude estimate of exposure, which most likely leads to an underestimation of the association,” Gerber told the Eureka Alert science news service.
Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection monitors the air for nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and carbon monoxide. This year, they mounted a widely publicized carpooling campaign to entice Israelis out of their individual cars.
However doctors at the Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute of Science conducted a series of studies that show that air currents from Europe, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and North Africa account for a significant portion of the pollution found in Israel.
At a president’s conference in Jerusalem in 2011, the HU and Weizmann scientists presented their data and showed that for 240 days each year, air currents originating from Eastern and Western Europe deposited heavy metals like lead, zinc, and nickel in Israel. Air samples showed that more than half of the dust particles in Israeli air came from Europe and, more specifically, they found lead from the Ukraine.
Prof. Yigal Erel, a researcher in the project, also found that on cooler days in the summer European pollution was present in greater amounts than the amount of local particles.
When researchers looked at the desert dust in air samples from Jerusalem, they found pesticides and toxic metals from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and North Africa deposited by air currents originating from those countries that occur approximately 73 days each year.
However, Israel also exports air pollution, said project researchers, citing the smoke from large Lag B’Omer bonfires that likely makes its way to Jordan.
The IMEP continually strengthens its involvement in both regional and global environmental partnerships to combat this transnational pollution. Currently, it has signed onto 23 bilateral agreements for environmental cooperation.
As research in the U.S. and Europe continues to establish a link between air pollution and other chronic health conditions such as allergies and asthma, in Israel, where the incidence of asthma has doubled in the last 20 years, according to the Environment and Health Fund there, researchers are now studying two large populations to investigate this relationship.
One recent large scale study led by the Weizmann Institute, Emory University, Sheba Medical Center, Maccabi Healthcare Services, the Medical Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, and Clalit Health Services is looking at the correlation between air pollution in Israel and the origins of new recruits into the IDF, while a second study is analyzing asthma rates among children in Haifa.