Aerial photo taken on Oct. 13, 2016 shows the Chaobai River shrouded in smog in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 13, 2016. A blue alert for air pollution was issued on Thursday in Beijing.
Air pollution may cause blood vessel damage and inflammation, even in healthy young adults, a U.S. study said Tuesday.
Air pollution is known to contribute to cardiovascular disease and related deaths, but it remained unclear how air pollution actually affects the blood vessels to increase the risk of disease.
For this study, investigators analyzed the component of air pollution known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5) -- the tiny pieces of solid or liquid pollution emitted from motor vehicles, factories, power plants, fires, and smoking.
Study participants included 72 healthy, nonsmoking, adults in Provo, Utah, where the unique weather and geographical features periodically result in air pollution.
During the winters of 2013, 2014, and 2015, these young adults, with an average age of 23, provided blood samples, which researchers then tested for markers of cardiovascular disease.
They found that periodic exposure to PM2.5 was associated with several abnormal changes, including a significant increase in the number of small, micro-particles that indicate cell injury and death.
Air pollution was also tied with increased levels of proteins that inhibit blood vessel growth and proteins that signify blood-vessel inflammation, according to the study in Circulation Research, an American Heart Association journal.
"These findings suggest that living in a polluted environment could promote the development of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke more pervasively and at an earlier stage than previously thought," study author Aruni Bhatnagar, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Louisville, said in a statement.
"Although we have known for some time that air pollution can trigger heart attacks or strokes in susceptible, high-risk individuals, the finding that it could also affect even seemingly healthy individuals suggests that increased levels of air pollution are of concern to all of us, not just the sick or the elderly."