Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Could Smoggy Air Raise Your Anxiety Level?


Possibly, one study suggests, while another links pollution to increased stroke risk

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 25, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Air pollution may take a toll not only on physical health, but mental well-being as well, two new studies suggest.

In one, researchers confirmed a long-studied connection between air pollution and cardiovascular health -- finding evidence that dirty air may help trigger strokes in vulnerable people.

The other study looked at a newer question: Could air pollution also affect mental health? The answer, it found, is "possibly." Among over 70,000 U.S. women in the study, those who lived in relatively polluted areas were more likely to report multiple anxiety symptoms.

The studies, published online March 24 in the BMJ, only link these factors; they do not prove that air pollution is the direct cause of either strokes or anxiety.

There could be other explanations, said Melinda Power, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, who led the anxiety study.

She said her team included the other possible factors that they could account for, such as whether women lived in a big city, or had heart or lung conditions.

"But you can't account for everything," said Power, who was with Harvard University at the time of the study.

"I think some of the most likely alternative explanations would be other forms of pollution," Power said. Chronic noise -- from traffic, for example -- is one possibility, she noted.

It's too soon to declare that better air quality could help ease anxiety symptoms, Power stressed. "But it's an interesting finding," she said. "And studies need to look further into the association between air pollution and mental health."

If a connection is confirmed, then reducing air pollution could have an "important impact" on mental health on the broader scale, according to Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. Brauer is also the author of an editorial in the same issue of the journal.

That's because both anxiety disorders and pollution are common, worldwide problems, Brauer said.

But, he stressed, it's too early to call air pollution a risk factor for anxiety. "This is early research," Brauer said. "It's an intriguing finding, but you can't make conclusions from a single study."

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