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EPA Study Shows Possible Link Between Air Pollution and Higher Cholesterol Levels

High cholesterol, especially the “bad” type, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), is a known risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease which can lead to heart attacks. There are many causes of high cholesterol, including genetics, a high-fat diet, and lack of exercise. One other factor researchers are investigating is whether air pollutants like fine particle pollution, also called PM2.5, contribute to high cholesterol levels, especially LDL. Particle pollution is regulated because, at excessive exposures, it can be hazardous to health. Particles can form as the result of emissions from motor vehicles, industry, smoke from wildfires, and other sources of fossil fuel combustion.

Extensive studies over the past two decades have shown that air pollution can impact the heart and can cause heart attacks in people with cardiovascular disease. One decade-long study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed PM2.5 can accelerate narrowing of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which sets up conditions for more clotting and a heart attack. More recently, attention has been given to the potential impact on cholesterol levels in those with heart disease. Researchers at EPA are using new diagnostic technology and air quality modeling to better understand the potential links between air quality and high cholesterol.

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