Monday, March 7, 2011

MSU Project to Study How Air Pollution Affects Health

Could the air we breathe trigger chronic conditions like diabetes? Can it help make us fat?
Those questions are part of a five-year, $8-million research project at Michigan State University. It builds on previous research suggesting some pollutants increase blood pressure and blood sugar levels in laboratory animals -- the kinds of indicators associated with cardiovascular and metabolic disease and the warning signs of diseases such as diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Jack Harkema, the lead investigator, likens the health connection to the effects of smoking. Common sense says inhaling cigarette toxins will damage your lungs. The "remote responses" like damage to the heart aren't as obvious, said Harkema, a professor at MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Likewise, air pollution may trigger health risks in unexpected ways. One study suggested that young mice exposed to air pollution had extra abdominal fat and higher insulin resistance.
To be clear, no one is saying pollutants alone pack on pounds. "But it's that (pollutants are) going to enhance the cardiovascular and metabolic problems associated with obesity," said Harkema, who is in Washington today for the announcement of the grants by the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency.

"We think air pollution can cause some of the same things that a bad diet does."