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Air Pollution & Liver Spots

The more traffic-related air pollution in a woman’s life, the more likely she is to develop brown spots on her face. Researchers from Dusseldorf, Germany identified nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrated in traffic-related air pollution as a causative factor in the development these brown spots, popularly known as liver spots. Exposure to NO2 is also associated with lung cancer and compromised lung function. The researchers studied two groups of women - 806 German women ranging in age from 67 to 80 and 743 Han Chinese women ages 28 to 70. The investigators found no link between levels of NO2 and liver spots (known medically as lentigines) on the back of the women’s hands or forearms, but observed a significant link between exposure to NO2 and brown spots on the cheeks of women older than age 50 in both groups. This was particularly evident in the Chinese women over 50. In general, liver spots usually appear on the face, forearms, hands and upper trunk. In the U.S. 90 percent of Caucasians older than age 60 and 20 percent of those under 35 have these brown spots, which are considered benign, as a result of sun exposure.

Air Pollution Increases Risk Of Heart Disease

Air pollution is a recognized risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and new research indicates that it is especially detrimental for women with type 2 diabetes. Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reviewed data from more than 100,000 women, comparing rates of cardiovascular disease in connection with air pollution. They found that among women who were affected by air pollution, type 2 diabetes was a more important factor than  age, family history of cardiovascular disease, a woman’s weight, smoking, and region of the country. For non-diabetics in the study, long-term exposure to air pollution led to small, but statistically insignificant increases in the risk of cardiovascular events. The researchers reported that for each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air pollution, a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease rose by 44 percent if she had type 2 diabetes. The 10 micrograms increase in pollution is the equivalent of the difference in air quality between Los Angeles and St. Louis. The researchers suggested that women at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and especially those with type 2 diabetes, take precautions to limit their exposure to air pollution. They also suggested following recommendations to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by not smoking, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Trees Could Save Your Life

Did you know trees help rid the atmosphere of contaminants and reduce air pollution? The effect isn’t great – trees only remove about one percent of airborne pollution – but a new study from the U.S. Forest Service concluded that trees in the U.S. save more than 850 lives a year by performing this important function. They estimate the reduction in pollution prevents 670,000 occurrences of acute respiratory symptoms, adding up to an impact on human health valued at nearly $7 billion. The investigation showed that while pollution removal by trees is higher in rural areas, the impact on human health is greater in urban centers where more than 80 percent of us live. The study looked at four pollutants for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established air quality standards: nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxcide and particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter. Pollution related to particulate matter was linked to 130,000 deaths, while deaths related to ozone totaled 4,700 in 2005, the study found. In addition to being a primary environmental concern, air pollution is linked to a number of negative effects on health, including increased risks of pulmonary, cardiac, vascular and neurological diseases.

David Nowak et al, “Tree and Forest Effects on Air Quality and Human Health in the United States," Environmental Pollution, doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2014.05.028

Broccoli Tea to Fight Air Pollution

Undoubtedly, the best way to avoid the damage air pollution can cause to your health is to move to where the air is clean. The World Health Organization estimates that the chemicals in air pollution take seven million lives per year, worldwide. Fortunately, there may be a way to cancel out some of the unhealthy effects of pollution without leaving home. Researchers from Johns Hopkins and China’s Qidong Liver Cancer Institute tested the effects of a tea made with broccoli sprouts among 291 residents of Jiangsu Province, an area of China that which has some of the worst air pollution in the country. The study showed that a daily drink of a half cup of the tea – a combination of freeze-dried broccoli sprout powder, water and pineapple and lime juice – increased elimination of by-products of the cancer-causing toxin benzene by 61 percent, and boosted excretion of acrolein, a lung irritant, by 23 percent. Increased elimination of these substances began immediately after the participants began drinking the tea and continued at the same rate through the study. No such changes were measured in study participants who drank a similar tea that did not include the broccoli sprout extract. Broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, a compound that has been shown in animal studies to help lower risks of cancer and promote excretion of benzene. You can get sulforaphane in your diet by eating broccoli, but a more concentrated form would be needed to match the levels provided by the tea in the study.

Thomas Kensler et al, “Rapid and Sustainable Detoxication of Airborne Pollutants by Broccoli Sprout Beverage: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial in China,” Cancer Prevention Research, doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0103