Check air pollution levels before a trip abroad, study says

Even a short-term visit to a polluted city can have serious health implications, according to a study published by researchers at UCL.

The study which was published in the journal of Circulation from the American Heart Association, involved 26 non-smoking, healthy adults who traveled from Los Angeles to  Beijing during the summers of 2014 to 2015 over a ten-week period. 

The research participants were split into two groups and blood samples were taken from the first group at eight weeks and the second group at six weeks after arrival in Beijing.

During the time of the study, the concentration of airborne particles in Beijing was on average 371% higher than in Los Angeles. 

According to the study, the participants experienced significant health changes during their time in Beijing. 

These included higher levels of oxidized fats which can cause heart inflammation and a change in enzyme function with is associated with heart disease. 

The study also found that the individuals had up to an 800% greater concentration of air pollutants in their bodies than they did when in Los Angeles. 

Lead author of the study, Dr Jesus Araujo said: ‘It is widely known that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with increased cardiovascular disease.’

‘But it was unknown whether a short-term visit to a location with severe air pollution could have any significant impact.’ 

Yan Lin, first author of the study said: ‘It’s likely that the health effects would be even more prominent after longer exposure to air pollution, repetitive travels, or among preexisting health conditions.’ 

Yifang Zhu, co-lead author of the study and professor of environmental health sciences at the Fielding School said: ‘Los Angeles used to be as polluted as Beijing is today.’ 

‘A city’s air quality can improve markedly when effective environmental policies are put into place.’ 

The researchers concluded that there are some ways to mitigate the risk of developing health issues when travelling to polluted cities. 

Dr Araujo recommended avoiding intense physical activity, such as running outdoors or hiking. He also suggested that individuals with preexisting cardiovascular health conditions should avoid travelling to these locations for extended periods of time, especially around peak times of high air pollution levels. 

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