Exposure to pollutants aggravates cardiovascular risk in patients who already have other risk factors, even when they are already on treatment, according to a study conducted by researchers at CINTESIS – Center for Health Technology and Services Research and published in the Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health.
The study analyzed the influence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as the pesticide DDE, on the cardiometabolic and inflammatory profile of a population of premenopausal, obese and hypertensive women.
“We have witnessed society’s growing interest in the effects of exposure to pollutants. Although the use of many POPs has been banned, their presence in the environment and populations remains a reality, largely due to the persistence and bioaccumulation characteristics of this group of pollutants. It is impossible to completely escape the exposure, so the focus should be on prevention, monitoring and research on health effects,” explain the authors.
In this study, the scientists collected blood samples of visceral adipose tissue and subcutaneous adipose tissue from a total of 43 women at the time of bariatric surgery. These were then compared to a group of obese women who were not hypertensive.
According to this research, pollutant concentrations were significantly higher in obese and hypertensive women than in obese women who were not hypertensive. In women with obesity and hypertension, cardiovascular risk was always increased, regardless of the existence of treatment.
These data suggest that the accumulation of pollutants in the visceral adipose tissue and in the blood implies an increased risk of suffering a cardiovascular event, such as a myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease, heart failure or stroke, even when the patients are taking medication to lower blood pressure.
As a consequence, “the analysis of the concentration of pollutants in visceral adipose tissue may be useful to detect patients at greater risk and to anticipate pharmacological treatment”.
Under the coordination of Conceição Calhau, a professor at the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the Nova University of Lisbon, this study has as coauthors several CINTESIS researchers, namely Ana Ferro, Diana Teixeira, Diogo Pestana, Cristina Santos and Jorge Polónia.
Previously the researchers of this unit had already carried out other studies, both in humans and in animal model, and concluded that the presence of pollutants in the body is related to a higher risk of developing diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
Persistent organic pollutants are substances derived primarily from industrial activities, which may contaminate air, soil and water. They are or have been used as pesticides, ingredients of industrial, household and personal care products and plasticizers, for example. In humans, exposure to these contaminants occurs primarily through food, but also through inhalation or dermal exposure, and there is a preferential accumulation in adipose tissue. They are known to be endocrine disruptors.
According to the researchers, “Competent bodies, including EFSA, seek to define safe doses in food and exposure, but it is not always possible to cover the complexity of chronic exposure to these contaminants, nor to blends. In this way, it is necessary to focus on the biomonitoring and reduction of these pollutants in the sources of exposure, such as red meat, dairy products and fatty fish, for example”.
For its part, the team promises to “continue to explore the mechanisms responsible for the effects of these pollutants on metabolism, namely in hypertension and cardiovascular risk.” In the future, it will still be necessary “to develop strategies that prevent or attenuate this deleterious process leading to events and death.”