Smog Turning Good Cholesterol Bad
Smog from vehicle emissions is considered to be the main source of pollution in urban areas. Scientists have studied their impact on human health for years, but the link between these pollutants and atherosclerosis has been a little hazy.
Now, researchers from UCLA and the University of Washington have discovered that breathing auto emissions can trigger a change in "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, HDL) to the "bad" kind, low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Cholesterol is a fat-like compound that your liver makes to provide your cells with the needed fluidity and flexibility to function properly. Cholesterol is found in every living cell. We cannot live without it. It provides the building blocks from which the body makes its own supply of hormones. It is also found in animal products, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products.
The researchers exposed laboratory mice to vehicle emissions and recorded their progress for two weeks. They discovered that the mice had suffered oxidative damage to the blood and the liver. This damage was not reversed even after exposing the animals to clean air for a whole week after the emissions. The scientists found that the damage was due to an alteration of the HDL cholesterol. Mice were exposed for a few hours, several days a week, to whole diesel exhaust at a particulate mass concentration within the range of what mine workers commonly see. A high concentration, to be sure, but this was needed for a clear cause and effect.
After being exposed to the emissions, scientists analyzed blood and tissue specimens and tested to see if the protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of HDL, known as "good" cholesterol, were still there. They used special analytical laboratory procedures to evaluate how "good" or "bad" HDL had become. The team discovered that many of the positive properties of HDL were severely changed after the air-pollutant exposure.
As an example, the HDL of the mice had a much-decreased ability to protect against oxidation and inflammation induced by low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as "bad" cholesterol, than the mice that had only been exposed to filtered air.
Further, without HDL's ability to inhibit LDL, along with other factors, the oxidation process may run unabated. Not only was the HDL of the mice exposed to diesel exhaust unable to protect against oxidation, but it further accelerated the oxidation and even worked in with the LDL to cause even more damage, according to the researchers.
"We suggest that people try to limit their exposure to air pollutants, as they may induce damage that starts during the exposure and continues long after it ends," said first author Fen Yin, a researcher in the division of cardiology at the Geffen School of Medicine.
The current research adds to the team's earlier findings that ultrafine particles commonly found in air pollution, including vehicle emissions, increase the build-up of cholesterol plaques in the arteries and that HDL may play a role.
After conducting the experiment, the team concluded that HDL cholesterol plays a crucial role in establishing the risk of heart and liver damage. The researchers are certain that in addition to monitoring levels of pollutants in the air, particular attention should also be paid at the HDL cholesterol.
The air we breathe affects our entire bodies, including our brain functions, our lungs our circulatory and many other systems.
Fine particulate matter pollution is at its worst in the morning, during rush hour, and also during winter months. So if you live in area of high pollution, avoid going out during these times and try to keep your vigorous exercise indoors
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