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Air Pollution Affects Women More Than Men, New Study Finds

Differences became clearer when volunteers were exposed to higher levels of diesel exhaust.

Air pollution hits women harder than men, according to a new study.

Researchers found diesel exhaust fumes change components of blood affected by inflammation, infection and heart disease, but these changes were greater among women. The academics found levels of 90 proteins in the body were distinctly different in men and women following exposure to the fumes.

The findings were presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Some of these proteins are known to play a role in inflammation, damage repair, blood clotting, heart disease and the immune system. Differences became clearer when volunteers were exposed to higher levels of diesel exhaust.

Exhaust rises from a chimney of the Heizkraftwerk Lichterfelde natural gas-fired power and heating plant stands on November 03, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. Air pollution hits women harder than men, according to a new study. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Earlier research has found sex differences in how air pollution affects lung diseases such as asthma and respiratory infections. For the study, a Canadian team recruited five men and five women, who were all healthy non-smokers.

Each of them spent hours breathing filtered air and air containing diesel exhaust fumes at three different concentrations- 20, 50 and 150 micrograms of fine particulate matter per cubic meter, with a one-hour break between each exposure.

Volunteers donated blood samples 24 hours after each exposure and the researchers made detailed examinations of the volunteers’ blood plasma. Plasma is the liquid component of blood that carries blood cells as well as hundreds of proteins and other molecules around the body.

Using a well-established analysis technology called liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, the team looked for changes in the levels of different proteins after exposure to diesel exhaust and compared the changes in females and males.

Professor Neeloffer Mookherjee, of the University of Manitoba in Canada, said: “These are preliminary findings, however they show that exposure to diesel exhaust has different effects in female bodies compared to male and that could indicate that air pollution is more dangerous for females than males.

“This is important as respiratory diseases such as asthma are known to affect females and males differently, with females more likely to suffer severe asthma that does not respond to treatments. Therefore, we need to know a lot more about how females and males respond to air pollution and what this means for preventing, diagnosing and treating their respiratory disease.”

Fumes from the Tata Steel plant are seen on August 20, 2021 in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands.  Air pollution hits women harder than men, according to a new study.(Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

Professor Zorana Andersen, of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, said: “We know that exposure to air pollution, especially diesel exhaust, is a major risk factor in diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“There is very little we can do as individuals to avoid breathing polluted air, so we need governments to set and enforce limits on air pollutants. We also need to understand how and why air pollution contributes to poor health.”

Professor Andersen, who is Chair of the European Respiratory Society Environment and Health Committee, added: “This study offers some important insight into how the body reacts to diesel exhaust and how that may differ between females and males.”

Produced in association with SWNS.

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