Claim: Air pollution linked to cardiovascular disease; air purifiers may lessen impact

Except there was no heart disease identified in this Chinese study. Note that air purifiers are made in China. I’m sure that’s a coincidence.

Whatever small, transient changes may have been observed in this small study of Chinese college students in their dorm rooms were not clinical changes. And certainly there was no heart disease observed.

But I have no doubt that air purifier marketers will exploit this specious claim.

The media release is below. Reuters story is here.


Air pollution linked to cardiovascular disease; air purifiers may lessen impact
Circulation Journal Report


DALLAS, Aug. 14, 2017 — Exposure to high levels of air pollution increased stress hormone levels and negative metabolic changes in otherwise healthy, young adults in a recent study conducted in China. Air purifiers appeared to lessen the negative effects, according to new research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

Researchers focused on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — a component of air pollution emitted from vehicles, factories, power plants, fires and smoking — because many studies have suggested this type of major air pollutant might lead to cardiovascular and metabolic health consequences, according to Haidong Kan, M.D., Ph.D., study author and professor of environmental health sciences at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.

However, the biological mechanisms linking air pollution to cardiovascular risk are unclear. In this study, the first of its kind, researchers used “metabolomics” — a method that could reflect how glucose, amino acids, fatty acids and lipids are metabolized — to get a snapshot of the chemical processes by which cells produce the substances and energy needed to sustain life.

Researchers recruited 55 healthy, young college students, who received alternate treatments of real and sham air purification in random orders in their dormitory rooms.

Researchers measured indoor and outdoor fine particulate matter levels during the study, and at certain points did health tests and collected blood serum and urine samples to analyze the students’ metabolites, inflammation and oxidative stress biomarkers. They looked for differences in blood serum metabolites, biomarkers and blood pressures with increasing exposure to fine particulate matter.

Researchers found:

  • Notable changes in 97 blood serum metabolites after fine particulate matter exposure.
  • An average 82 percent lower level of indoor fine particulate matter with air purifiers versus sham purifiers.
  • Short-term reductions in stress hormone levels after air purifiers were used.
  • After 24-hours with real air purifiers in use, exposure levels for fine particulate matter were in the safe range per World Health Organization.
  • Higher fine particulate matter exposure was also associated with increases in stress hormone levels, which are believed to induce high blood pressure, inflammatory and metabolic effects in the body, Kan said.

Fine particulate matter exposure impacted metabolism of glucose, amino acids, fatty acids and lipids. These changes, along with the significantly higher blood pressure, insulin resistance and biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress found among people exposed to higher levels, could be partly responsible for the adverse cardiovascular effects caused by air pollution exposure, researchers said.

“Levels of stress hormones, systolic blood pressure and biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation were significantly lower when using real air purifiers,” Kan said. “Although we found significant health benefits with air purifiers, the actual health protection people could get from air purifiers in real living conditions is still not well-determined.”

This was also a small study and whether the results translate to other countries remains to be seen, because air pollution levels are much higher in urban China than in the United States or Europe. Nevertheless, the study highlights air pollution’s potential impact on human health in more ways than we currently know, Kan said.

“Future studies should examine whether the health benefits from short-term air purification can improve long-term health, and whether these findings are also found in people who live in low pollution areas,” Kan said. The current study only focused on one particulate matter size found in pollution.


Co-authors are Huichu Li, M.S.; Jing Cai, Ph.D.; Renjie Chen, Ph.D.; Zhuohui Zhao, Ph.D.; Zhekang Ying, Ph.D.; Lin Wang, Ph.D.; Jianmin Chen, Ph.D.; Ke Hao, Sc.D.; Patrick L. Kinney, Sc.D. and Honglei Chen, M.D. Ph.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.

The National Natural Science Foundation of China, Public Welfare Research Program of National Health and Family Planning Commission of China, Shanghai 3-Year Public Health Action Plan, Cyrus Tang Foundation and China Medical Board Collaborating Program funded the study.

7 thoughts on “Claim: Air pollution linked to cardiovascular disease; air purifiers may lessen impact”

  1. Actually the approach, both scientifically and in terms of propaganda intentions, isn’t all that new. I examined a case of it in TobakkoNacht — The Antismoking Endgame in 2013.

    Here’s the relevant excerpt from pgs 188, 189. (I realize it may be too long for here. If so, I will try to summarize it instead.)

    One such study that stands out was done in 2007 by Dr. Danilo Giannini of the Angiology University of Pisa, Italy. Dr. Giannini’s research was published in the journal Angiology with the intimidating title of “The Effects of Acute Passive Smoke Exposure on Endothelium-Dependent Brachial Artery Dilation in Healthy Individuals.”

    Dr. Giannini exposed nonsmokers to secondhand smoke at carbon monoxide levels of 35 ppm – levels over 2,000% as smoky as in the middle of old airplane smoking sections – and then compared the subjects’ Flow Mediated Dilation (FMD) to that of non-exposed subjects. That’s clearly not the situation most of us think of when we hear the phrase “secondhand smoke exposure.” Under such conditions, no one would have been surprised if the nonsmoking subjects had simply exploded, but all that Giannini observed was a moderate and temporary change in FMD. With findings similar to Ryo Otsuka’s in style and effect, Dr. Giannini claimed his findings could be related in some sense to similar changes that might, if maintained steadily over many decades, predispose some individuals to heart attacks.

    The fact that his smoke concentrations were at such outrageous levels, the fact that even at those levels nothing approaching an actual heart attack was induced, and the fact that he ignored the need to set up a control group, were all simply lost on the press and ignored by politicians when the study was made public. Instead, as usual, it was held up as “yet another study” supporting the idea that just being in a room with a smoker, even briefly, was a deadly peril comparable to sharing a cage with a rabid tiger on crack cocaine.

    Are the Otsuka- and Giannini-type studies actually meaningful outside the propaganda sphere of antismoking research? Did they show changes that normal people should worry about? If we ignore the lack of proper controls and the emotional stress experienced by the subjects in those experiments, were the findings themselves something that might indicate a risk in the usual sense of the word? And do such studies justify headlines like that of CBS News in warning that even “A Few Whiffs of Smoke May Harm Your Heart”?

    The relative justification of the use of the word “risk” in such matters might be better understood if we compare its use in a situation less emotionally threatening than being locked in a smoke-filled chamber. How about comparing it to the “risk” of eating a nice, healthy, breakfast staple – a bowl of cornflakes and milk?

    As Dr. Siegel summarized it in an article on his website,

    “A new study published in the June 19 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that the hyperglycemic state associated with eating Corn Flakes results in measurable decrements in endothelial dysfunction, as assessed by endothelium-dependent flow-mediated dilation … Based on the same type of information in this study regarding Corn Flakes, anti-smoking researchers and organizations – including the CDC – have concluded that 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke causes heart attacks. … Of note, you don’t see the cardiovascular disease researchers (in the Corn Flake study) jumping to this startling and sensational conclusion (nor) any warning in their article that eating Corn Flakes might trigger a heart attack, or that we need to ban Corn Flakes to prevent heart attacks.”

    Siegel goes on to say that “Both ASH and ANR are disseminating lies to the public in making these statements, which exaggerate, extrapolate, and distort the science in a way that turns a potentially important piece of information into a lie.” What Dr. Siegel neglected to do in his analysis, however, was to compare it directly to the type of study carried out by Dr. Giannini. Dr. Giannini used secondhand smoke exposure levels almost 2,000% higher than what most would consider a hearty exposure. Imagine the extent of endothelial dysfunction reaction if a breakfaster was forced to consume 2,000% of a similarly hearty meal – about twenty extra-large bowls of cornflakes with a gallon of milk and a quart or so of strawberries sprinkled on top!

    It’s clear that on the basis of the likely results, Killer Kornflakes Consumption beats out ETS Exposure by a country mile in terms of posing a deadly threat to our children. Cornflakes should not be sold to children. They should not be sold to child abusers posing as responsible parents who feed them to innocent children. They should not be displayed openly in stores. They should not be associated with brightly smiling cartoon characters and healthy sports figures. Boxes should be a drab muddy green with 80% of the remaining packaging devoted to full-color pictures of putrescent bloated corpses, fat-oozing arteries, and bloody bursting hearts! The base $4 price of a box of flakes should be slapped with a tobacco-style tax of 400% to make a carton of Tony The Tiger ring in at a nice, child-safe $20. And finally, any film portraying cornflakes or their paraphernalia (bowls, spoons, milk, etc.) should be slammed not just with an R rating but with a full-blown X.

    Giannini’s research may soon bring headlines blaring the warning, “A Few Flakes of Corn May Harm Your Heart.” Unless someone’s been lying to us about the deadly threat of casual ETS exposure.

    – MJM

  2. Hormone levels are hard to read when everything works as it should. If a hormone level is high enough for reliable detection, it means the pathway it regulates is crippled.

    Circuits regulated by hormones typically have open-loop gains in the order of millions; that means even a single molecule of a hormone can have a measurable effect, with a near-zero chance of it being detected directly.

  3. Air purifiers: Good for what ails ya. And if nothing ails ya, well it’s good for that too.

  4. The only effect of pollution on my stress hormone levels is annoyance with the extremely fast dust deposition at home (Lincoln Park, Chicago), especially when it damages sensitive equipment. I have to disassemble and clean my microscope every time I use it, even though I keep it in a sealed container between uses.

    I would buy an air prufier but I am reluctant to subsidize the scoundrels peddling them to people who don’t need one.

  5. There is some fun here. EPA regulates outside ozone and certifies inside air purifiers, many of which emit ozone. Is ozone good or bad?

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