An association between air pollution and increased cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality has been reported, but underlying mechanisms are unknown. The authors examined short-term associations between ambient pollutants (particulate matter less than 10 μm in aerodynamic diameter (PM 10), ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide) and cardiac autonomic control using data from the fourth cohort examination (1996-1998) of the population-based Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. For each participant, the authors calculated PM10 and gaseous pollutant exposures as 24-hour averages and ozone exposure as an 8-hour average 1 day prior to the randomly allocated examination date. They calculated 5-minute heart rate variability indices and used logarithmically transformed data on high-frequency (0.15-0.40 Hz) and low-frequency (0.04-0.15 Hz) power, standard deviation of normal R-R intervals, and mean heart rate. Linear regression was used to adjust for CVD risk factors and demographic, socioeconomic, and meteorologic variables. Regression coefficients for a one-standard-deviation increase in PM10 (11.5 μg/m3) were -0.06 ms2 (standard error (SE), 0.018), -1.03 ms (SE, 0.31), and 0.32 beats/minute (SE, 0.158) for log-transformed high-frequency power, standard deviation of normal R-R intervals, and heart rate, respectively. Similar results were found for gaseous pollutants. These cross-sectional findings suggest that higher ambient pollutant concentrations are associated with lower cardiac autonomic control, especially among persons with existing CVD, and highlight a putative mechanism through which air pollution is associated with CVD.
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