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Can Pollution Make You Fat?

Maybe so, and worse, it could lead to heart disease. A new study of seniors living in Massachusetts suggests that black carbon, a component of traffic-generated air pollution, influences levels of leptin. High levels of this hormone are associated with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

A team of researchers from Brown University measured blood levels of leptin in 765 seniors living in Boston and found that levels of the hormone were 27 percent higher among those with the most exposure to black carbon. These individuals also had lower incomes and higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes than others in the study. The research team didn't establish where the pollution was generated, reporting that the proximity of the nearest major highway was not apparently related to leptin levels. Rather, they suggested that black carbon exposure probably reflects overall pollution from traffic on a wider range of roads in the immediate vicinity of the participants' homes. The study doesn't prove that black carbon exposure increases leptin levels, but the researchers suggested that their findings may help explain increases in cardiovascular disease associated with air pollution.

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