March 12, 2009

Face masks may help prevent heart events

Exposure to engine pollution results in arterial stiffness, but a face mask reduces exposure to airborne pollution particles, Scottish researchers said.

Nicholas Mills of the University of Edinburgh said acute exposure to diesel exhaust is associated with an immediate and transient increase in arterial stiffness.

This may, in part, explain the increased risk for cardiovascular disease associated with air pollution exposure, Mills said in a statement.

A group of 12 non-smoking young men cycled on exercise bikes while breathing air that had either been filtered or been contaminated with smoke from a diesel engine. The study, published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology, found that when the subjects were exposed to the polluted air, the blood vessels in their wrists temporarily lost the ability to expand and contract.

Stiff arteries can result in raised blood pressure and reduced blood flow in the heart, Mills said. Arterial stiffness plays an important role in hypertension and is an independent predictor of mortality.

In a separate article, also published in Particle and Fibre Toxicology, researchers report wearing a face mask reduced exposure to airborne pollution particles and a reduction in blood pressure and improved heart rate control during exercise in a city center environment.

We tested a range of face masks that differed widely in their efficiency as particle filters, Jeremy Langrish of the University of Edinburgh said. In general, those masks designed to reduce occupational exposure to dusts in the workplace were more efficient than those marketed to cyclists and pedestrians.