Children exposed to air pollution such as wildfire smoke, car exhaust for as little as one day may be at risk of higher rates of heart disease and other ailments in adulthood, according to a new Stanford-led study.
The analysis published in the Nature Scientific report is the first of it’s kind to investigate air pollution effects at the single-cell level and to simultaneously focus on both the cardiovascular and immune system in children.
It confirms that bad air can alter gene regulation in a way that may impact long term health, a finding that could change the way medical experts and parents think about the air children breathe, and inform clinical interventions for those exposed to chronically elevated air pollution.
I think this is compelling enough for a pediatrician to say that we have evidence that air pollution causes changes in the immune systems and cardiovascular system associated not only with asthma and respiratory diseases said study lead author Mary Prunicki, director of Air Pollution and Health Research at Stanford’s Sean N. Parker centre for Asthma and Allergy research “ it looks like even brief air pollution exposure can change the regulation and expression of children gene and perhaps alter blood pressure, potentially laying the foundation for increasing risks of disease later in life.
A predominantly Hispanic group of children aged six to eight in Fresno, California, a city with some of the country’s highest air pollution levels due to industrial agriculture and wildfire, among other source using a combination of continuous daily pollution concentrations measured at central air monitoring stations in Fresno, daily concentrations from periodic spatial sampling and meteorology and geophysical data, the study team estimated average air pollution exposure for a day, a week and one, three, six and twelve months prior to each participant’s visit. When combined with health and demographic questionnaire, blood pressure reading and blood samples, the data began to paint a troubling picture.
The researchers used a form of mass spectrometry to analyse immune system cells for the first time in an air pollution study, the approach allowed simultaneously providing a more in-depth analysis of pollution exposure impacts than previously possible. Among their findings, exposure to five particulate known as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and ozone over time is linked to increased methylation, an alternative without changing their sequence. This change in gene expression may be passed down to future generations.
The researchers also found that air pollution exposure correlates with an increase in monocyte, with blood cells that play a key role in the build-up of plaques in arteries and could possibly predispose children to heart disease in adulthood.
Overall, respiratory diseases are killing more people each year and ranks as the second most common cause of death globally.
This is everyone’s problem, the vast majority of people around the world live in places with unhealthy air, understanding and mitigating the impact could save our children and lots of lives.
By: Peace Chigozie