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Dirty Air + Dirty Arteries = Risk for Cardiovascular Disease

A UCLA research team led by Dr. Andre Nel is studying the damage caused to cells and tissue by harmful molecules called free radicals in a process known as oxidation.

Initial results indicate there is potential for greater cardiovascular damage when environmental free radicals combine with those produced by the body.

The researchers mixed particles from diesel exhaust with fatty acids found in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Free radicals from diesel exhaust are found in polluted air, and are also produced by the body when food is converted into energy.

Next, the mixture was cultured with cells taken from inside blood vessels and then genetic material from the cells was extracted for examination.

What the researchers found was genes that promote cellular inflammation had become highly activated, a condition known to be a risk factor for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

To see if the same result would occur in living cells, they repeated the test using mice with high cholesterol. Activation of some of the same genes occurred in the animal's tissue.

The implication is that for people with risk factors like high cholesterol, diesel air pollution can potentially increase damage to the cardiovascular system by enhancing inflammation there.

The UCLA study is ongoing. Eventually, a simple blood test may be able to determine whether or not a person is at risk for disease brought on by the combination of environmental and metabolic free radicals.
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