When preparing for a trip, travelers often check the weather at their destination, but a UCLA study released Monday suggests people may want to check their destination’s air pollution levels.
According to the study, even a short-term visit to a highly polluted city can be detrimental to visitors’ health.
Researchers, working in conjunction with Peking University in Beijing, studied the health of 26 non-smoking healthy adults from Los Angeles who visited Beijing over a 10-week period in the summers of 2014 and 2015.
According to researchers, the travelers experienced “significant health changes” during their time in Beijing, including higher levels of oxidized fats, leading to increased heart inflammation, and changes in enzyme function associated with heart disease. The study subjects also saw up to 800% increases in air-pollutant concentrations in their bodies.
“It’s widely known that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with increased cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Jesus Araujo, UCLA professor of medicine and environmental health sciences. “But it was unknown whether a short-term visit to a location with severe air pollution could have any significant impact.”
According to the study, the negative health effects experienced by study participants largely reversed within four to seven weeks after they returned to Los Angeles. Researchers noted that Beijing’s air pollution levels were on average 371% higher than Los Angeles during the time of the study.
According to UCLA, the study is the first to examine the cardiovascular effects of short-term air pollution exposure in humans. Araujo previously studied the effects of such exposure in animals, finding they showed pronounced health impacts within just two weeks of exposure.
Araujo said people who travel to highly polluted cities can lower their chances of developing health problems by taking steps such as avoiding rigorous physical activity like running or hiking. People who pre-existing cardiovascular problems should consider avoiding extended visits to such polluted destinations, but if there is no alternative, they should stay indoors as much as possible with air-purifiers running.
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