Prof. Pope connects pollution to heart

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    By Marie Gross

    Dr. C. Arden Pope, epidemiologist and BYU professor, was recently nationally published for his study on cardiovascular disease. His focus concentrates on linking air pollution to more than respiratory problems, but to heart disease as well.

    Pope and other scholars claim in their recent publications in “Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association” that although smoking is a much larger risk factor for cardiovascular disease mortality, exposure to fine PM (fine particulate matter air pollution) imposes additional effects that seem to coincide with smoking.

    Atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease, directly correlates with Pope”s studies because exposure to fine PM causes accelerated atherosclerosis. During this process, deposits of fatty substance, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. This buildup called plaque usually affects large- and medium-sized arteries.

    Atherosclerosis develops slowly over time, leaving people with the disease unaware of the effects for some time.

    “For a relatively large number of people, it”s with their first heart attack that they find out that they have atherosclerosis. And if it”s not their first heart attack, then it”s because they”re experiencing angina,” Pope said.

    Angina is a recurring pain in the chest due to heart muscles not receiving enough blood flow to the heart. Chest pains and shortness of breath are signals of heart disease and are prevented through diet, exercise, and prescription drugs, Pope said.

    Utah has always been a leader in heart health. In 2000, the UnitedHealth Group ranked Utah as the third healthiest state in the country with the lowest number of smokers (14 percent of the population) and the lowest risk for heart disease (20 percent below the national average). Pope attributes this to Utah”s low smoking rate.

    “Yes, the biggest way to expose our lungs to these particles is to smoke, so quit smoking,” Pope said in response to whether fine particulate air pollution is controllable.

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