Hot off the presses from MedPage Today, an article that highlights the need to decrease pollution...for our HEALTH's sake (not just for preservation of the environment)!
Source - http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Strokes/31158
Airborne pollution can have serious consequences for the brain and the heart even at typical levels of exposure, according to the results of two studies published in the Feb. 13 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
In one analysis, researchers led by Gregory Wellenius, ScD, of Brown University in Providence, R.I., found that short-term exposure to fine particulate matter – even at levels allowed by the EPA – can increase the risk of ischemic stroke.
In the other study, a team led by Jennifer Weuve, ScD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and colleagues found that long-term exposure to particulate matter speeded up cognitive decline in older women.
The first report "adds to the already strong evidence linking (particulate matter) to cardiovascular effects," wrote Rajiv Bhatia, MD, of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, in an accompanying commentary.
And, he added, the cognition study suggests that "we may not fully understand the breadth of (particulate matter) health burdens."
Bhatia concluded that controlling particulate matter is technically feasible, but needs "increased efforts to assess exposure at the community level, more stringent and creative regulatory initiatives, and political support."
Wellenius and colleagues studied links between daily variation in fine particulate matter – particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter – and stroke incidence in the Boston area.
They drew data from medical records of 1,705 patients admitted to a single institution with neurologist-confirmed ischemic stroke between April 1, 1999, and Oct. 31, 2008.
Fine matter concentrations were measured at a central monitoring station, using EPA guidelines that define moderate air quality as between 15 and 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air and good air quality as 15 micrograms or lower.
The study period included only days in which the air quality was good or moderate; the researchers excluded 11 days in which it exceeded 40 micrograms per cubic meter.
They found that the estimated odds ratio of ischemic stroke onset was 1.34 (95% CI 1.13 to 1.58) following a 24-hour period classified as moderate, compared with a period in which the air quality was good. The risk increase was significant at P<0.001.
They also found that the relationship between higher particulate levels and increased risk of stroke was linear, strongest within 12 hours of exposure, and was seen among patients with strokes caused by large-artery atherosclerosis or small-vessel occlusion but not cardioembolism.
The risk was more strongly associated with markers of traffic pollution – such as black carbon and NO2 – than with particles linked to nontraffic sources, they reported.
Although the findings add to the evidence linking stroke and air pollution, there are some "unique" aspects, according to Robert Brook, MD, of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and Sanjay Rajagopalan, MD, of the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.
Specifically, they noted in an accompanying commentary, "the extremely rapid increase in stroke risk is an important novel insight" that suggests that current regulatory focus on daily and yearly average concentrations may be missing the boat.
For the cognition study, Weuve and colleagues turned to the long-running Nurses' Health Study, which began in 1976 with more than 121,000 participants.
Between 1995 and 2001, participants 70 or older with no history of stroke were asked to take part in a study of cognition and 19,049 agreed. Cognitive testing was done by telephone three times, with about two years between interviews.
The researchers tracked changes in cognition, looking for associations between both fine and coarse particulate matter, defined, respectively, as smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and between 2.5 and 10 micrometers.
Particulate matter was measured using EPA monitoring data, adjusted to estimate local exposure for each participant.
Analysis showed that higher levels of long-term exposure to both grades of pollution were associated with "significantly faster cognitive decline," the researchers found. Specifically:
The differences, Weuve and colleagues reported, were similar to those between women in the study who were approximately two years apart in age.
The associations, they reported, were found at pollution levels typical in many areas, suggesting that pollution control might be a way to reduce the "future population burden of age-related cognitive decline, and, eventually, dementia."
I was recently alerted to a great study (this time, a randomized controlled trial, which is the gold standard in medicine, featured below in Science Magazine) from 2009 illustrating the amazing effects of meditation on the body. African American men were randomized to 2 groups: a) usual care (medication and a cardiovascular health course...which is actually much more than usual care!) and b) usual care plus 15 to 20 minutes of transcendental meditation per day (which they were taught how to do). The men were followed for an average of 5 years and the number of heart attacks, strokes and deaths were tracked and compared. Needless to say, the results were impressive! 'Patients who practiced transcendental meditation on top of standard treatment experienced 47% fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths compared with the control group. For comparison, statin drugs, which reduce cholesterol levels, tend to lower the risk of life-threatening events by 30% to 40% relative to existing treatments. Common blood pressure drugs reduce these outcomes by 25% to 30%. In all, transcendental meditation has proved as powerful as any new class of heart disease medications entering the market.'
This strong decrease in heart attack, stroke and death rates is fascinating and VERY impressive! However, it comes as no surprise to me as I've learned quite a lot about meditation through both reading research and personal experience. Researchers believe that meditation fully decreases the action of body's sympathetic nervous system, which normally increases your blood pressure and keeps you on high alert for threats (stress response). By counteracting this system, blood pressure is lowered and your brain, heart and other organs (kidneys, lungs, eyes) stay in a state of calmness and tranquility. In doing so, you increase the oxygenation to your organs and tissues and decrease inflammation in the body. This is where we all need to stay in order to prevent heart attack, stroke and other diseases.
So, moving to the practicality of daily meditation. If you've never meditated before, I would recommend you buy a meditation or guided-imagery CD (can get them used for very cheap!) OR attend a few yoga classes that make time for relaxation (most do, but some more than others). You can start out with "sitting" for 10-15 minutes a day (or as much as you can tolerate) in a cool, dim room with your eyes closed and hands in your lap. You don't need to chant or hum or do anything weird, but just sit there and focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. When a thought enters your mind (like your shopping or to-do list), you acknowledge the thought and then let it go. It's pretty simple, yet takes a LOT of practice, so don't be discouraged when your mind wonders off or you feel like you can't focus.
Remember, we've been hard-wired to both increase and decrease stress; unfortunately, Western cultures are taught very well how to increase their stress response, but we are not taught how to counteract it. Meditation is one way of doing that. Others are exercise, yoga and tai chi; all of which
are wonderful, clinically proven, side-effect free and CHEAP ways to center your mind, focus your energy and rid yourself of unnecessary anxiety and obsessive thoughts. And, you'll be counteracting the negative effects of stress on your body! Trust me, I know this from personal experience! Enjoy!
Here's a link to the full article - http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2009/11/16-01.html
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.