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Study finds link between hardened arteries, living near L.A. freeway

Los Angeles residents living near freeways experience a hardening of the arteries that leads to heart disease and strokes at twice the rate of those who live farther away, a study has found.

The paper is the first to link automobile and truck exhaust to the progression of atherosclerosis -- or the thickening of artery walls -- in humans. The study was conducted by researchers from USC and UC Berkeley, joined by colleagues in Spain and Switzerland, and was published this week in the journal PloS ONE.

Researchers used ultrasound to measure the wall thickness of the carotid artery in 1,483 people who lived within 100 meters, or 328 feet, of Los Angeles freeways. Taking measurements every six months for three years, they correlated their findings with levels of outdoor particulates -- the toxic dust that spews from tailpipes -- at the residents’ homes.

They found that artery wall thickness accelerated annually by 5.5 micrometers -- one-twentieth the thickness of a human hair -- or more than twice the average progression in study participants.

The findings show, according to co-author Howard N. Hodis, director of the Atherosclerosis Research Unit at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, “that environmental factors may play a larger role in the risk for cardiovascular disease than previously suspected.”

Read the full story at Greenspace, The Times' environment blog.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Cars hit a bottleneck as they emerge from the 710 Freeway in Alhambra. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (2)

The atherosclerosis could also be due to higher levels of carbon monoxide known to be present near freeways, alongside the particulate. Carbon monoxide in high amounts can be deadly, of course, but has been shown to cause artery hardening in rabbits at levels like those near freeways.

How about the thousands of drivers who spend 2-4 hours a day commuting on the freeways and most of the time are just stuck in the middle of traffic inhaling all those polutants?


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