An unlikely contributor to hypertension: your environment

If you’re not familiar with hypertension, it’s a condition that essentially means you have elevated blood pressure – and it’s an increasing cause for concern in the United States. In January 2018, the American Heart Association (AHA) reported that over 103 million American adults had high blood pressure. This represents nearly half of the adult population!

Hypertension can have a profound impact on your life because it raises your risk for heart disease and stroke.

There are an array of potential causes for hypertension – from aging and drug use to infection and diet. But one of the more unexpected causes – and one that you can take action against – is your environment.

In 2018, researchers found that every human being walks around with his or her own unique “environmental cloud” – also known as the exposome cloud – which is made up of the thousands of pathogens, beneficial bacteria, chemical compounds (like insecticides or carcinogens) and particulate matter that we are exposed to in our daily lives. If you live in Los Angeles and spend hours in traffic driving to your office every day, your exposome cloud will likely look very different from someone who works on a farm in Vermont.

If you are in a more urbanized or industrialized area, particulate matter associated with air pollution may be the greatest cause for concern when it comes to hypertension. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 24% of all deaths from stroke and 25% of all deaths from ischemic heart disease are due to poor air quality.

After conducting a highly controlled study, researchers found that with every slight increase (meaning less than about a quarter of a tiny raindrop) of particulate matter concentrations, the incidence risk of hypertension is raised by 11% (Huang et al, 2019).

The causes of hypertension can be varied and complex – but taking a close look at the air quality you come in contact with every day and taking steps to improve it can be an important preventive tool when it comes to this serious disease.