Do you live in a big city or an area where you are sometimes forced to inhale car and truck exhaust? If so, you should strongly consider using a face mask, because exhaust causes arteries to lose their flexibility. Researchers writing in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology found that exposure to engine pollution resulted in arterial stiffness in a group of healthy volunteers.
Nicholas Mills from the University of Edinburgh and his colleagues investigated the cardiovascular damage that can be caused by inhaling diesel smoke in particular. “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."
A group of 12 non-smoking young men were set up in this experiment to cycle on exercise bikes while breathing air that had either been filtered or contaminated with smoke from a diesel engine. Researchers 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. According to Mills, this can have serious consequences, “Stiff arteries can result in raised blood pressure and reduced blood flow in the heart. Arterial stiffness plays an important role in hypertension and is an independent predictor of mortality.”
There is, however, something that cyclists and pedestrians in smog shrouded cities can do to limit the vascular effects caused by diesel exhaust. It turns out that wearing a facemask reduces exposure to airborne pollution particles and leads to a reduction in blood pressure and improved heart rate during exercise in an urban environment.
With regards to which type of facemask to use, Dr. Jeremy Langrish from the University of Edinburgh said, “We tested a range of facemasks that differed widely in their efficiency as particle filters. In general, those masks designed to reduce occupational exposure to dusts in the workplace were more efficient than those marketed to cyclists and pedestrians.”