The results are in: Pollution is a leading cause of heart disease. Health news service Medical Xpress said after reviewing recent research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that pollution levels are now “a greater threat to health than war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol combined.”

What is going on?

Researchers from around the world have focused on how all types of environmental pollutants — including air pollution caused by the burning of oil, gas and coal as fuel, smoke from wildfires, toxic chemicals and even the “lesser-known… soil, noise and light pollution” — affect human health, Medical Xpress explains.

What the scientists discovered was disturbing.

“Our bodies are being bombarded with pollutants from all sides and that is having a negative impact on our heart health,” said Jason Kovacic, director and CEO of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Australia, according to Medical Xpress.

After presenting the data, experts stressed the urgency of the threat and focused on the future, noting that people could one day be tested for individual toxic pollution levels, similar to how children in the U.S. are tested for lead poisoning.

“We still have a huge gap in our understanding of the link between pollutants and heart disease,” Kovacic said in the Medical Xpress report. “There are hundreds of thousands of chemicals that have not even been tested for their safety or toxicity, let alone their impact on our health.”

Why are these findings important?

Exposure to pollution has been linked to a range of medical problems, from mild to life-threatening: dehydration, weight gain, inflammation, high blood pressure, dementia, acute kidney failure, and damage to the heart and other organs, to name a few.

As if the statistics weren’t grim enough, “the evidence suggests that the number of people dying prematurely from these very different forms of pollution is much higher than currently thought,” Kovacic said.

Whether you exercise, see a doctor, or avoid drugs, tobacco, or excessive alcohol, chances are you’ve made at least one decision to take action to improve your health. It’s important that air pollution is recognized as the alarmingly harmful threat it is — and that we work to find and maintain solutions.

What is being done about it?

The researchers proposed a number of possible measures to address the air pollution problem, including changes in transportation, urban design, business investment and community education.

Try it today: walk or cycle instead of driving, switch to cleaner products, or simply take the time to learn more about climate issues and how they affect your health.

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