Recent research suggests that traffic pollution is thought to be a major contributing factor to serious damage in arteries that supply blood to the kidneys. Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, leading scientists have found that in addition to increasing the risk of diseases such as strokes and heart attacks, traffic fumes can also damage the kidneys significantly.
The study, conducted at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, tested the health of Boston stroke patients' kidneys. Half of the patients in the study lived within a kilometre of a major road, whereas the other half lived between 1km and 10km away from a major road. The patients were tested for the levels of creatinine in their blood - a by-product of muscle metabolism that ought to be filtered out of the body by the kidneys. Creatinine in the blood provides an indication of kidney function known as glomerular filtration rate (GFR).
Even when taking into account the patients' age, sex, habits and other underlying conditions, scientists found a significantly lower GFR, which is indicative of kidney problems, in those patients who lived particularly close to main roads. In comparison with patients living within 1km of the main road, the patients who lived within 50m had, on average, the GFR of someone four years older, the scientists found.
This is certainly not the first time traffic pollution has been associated with poor health. As previously mentioned, exhaust fumes are known to increase the risk of heart disease and strokes, and recently the health risks of pollution have been identified again and again. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in February looked at more than three million births in nine nations, and found that pregnant women living in polluted areas were more likely to have babies of low birth weight.
Children with a low birth weight have a higher risk of health problems, and whilst most survive, they are more likely to develop conditions such as diabetes and heart disease in later life. The findings in February indicated the relationship between the child's birth weight and pollution was dose-related; that is, the higher the exposure, the lower the average birth weight.
Moreover, scientists emphasise the importance of good health in all the vital organs, as problems in one can affect another adversely. For instance, most people with kidney disease suffered from high blood pressure (which increases the risk of heart disease), and, in turn, heart disease frequently places strain on the function of kidneys. Health experts emphasise the importance of cutting down exhaust fumes and traffic pollution wherever possible in order to reduce the threat pollution poses to our health.