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Breathing Polluted Air Harms Kidneys

S u m m a r y :
Air pollution might be causing kidney disease, says a new study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Bad Air Quality is Bad For Your Kidneys

When air quality is compromised, your kidneys feel it! Air pollution comes hand in hand with a range of health conditions, from heart to lung diseases. You may now include the kidneys in the group of organs that bear the brunt of polluted air, suggests a new research conducted by investigators from the Washington University School of Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs (VA) St. Louis Health Care System. According to these findings, pollution seems to be linked with a greater risk of chronic kidney disease that might eventually lead to kidney failure.

Air Pollution Leads to Kidney Failure

The researchers reviewed VA data collected from 2004 to 2012, spanning over 2.5 million people, for kidney function, and compared this with air quality information obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to assess the consequences of air pollution. The results show that high levels of air pollution (figures that go beyond EPA’s set maximum of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air that is considered to be safe for people) are linked with 44,793 new cases of kidney disease as well as 2,438 new cases of kidney failure.

Study senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, VA’s director of clinical epidemiology, explains that their findings point at a clear association between air pollution and the development of kidney disease.

From The Blood to the Kidneys

How does this work? How does bad air quality affect the kidneys? According to Al-Aly and his colleagues, noxious particles found in air, like dust, dirt, and soot, harm the kidneys just like they damage other organs like the lungs and the heart. These toxic substances reach the kidneys via the blood during the process of blood filtration, thereby disrupting normal kidney function. The higher the pollution level, the worse the negative effects. Regardless of the degree of pollution, the harm was there.

“The higher the levels of air pollution, the worse it is for the kidneys,” says Al-Aly. “However, no level is completely safe. Even at relatively low levels, there was a relationship between particulate matter concentrations below the EPA thresholds and kidney disease.”

A Global Problem

These findings apply to the US only. Elsewhere in the world, the situation is possibly worse. For instance, China and India are known to have significantly greater outdoor air pollution.

“In our analyses, the risk of chronic kidney disease and its progression was most pronounced at the highest levels of fine particulate matter concentration,” Al-Aly said. “This suggests further study is needed for a broader assessment of the global burden of kidney disease attributable to air pollution.”

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