High blood pressure? It can also be caused by the traffic noise we are subjected to. This is what emerges from a very recent scientific research published in the JACC Advances journal thanks to a collaboration between English scientists, from the University of Oxford, and Chinese scientists, from the School of Public Health, Peking University (Huang et al, JACC Advances, March 2023).
Hypertension, risks and causes
Hypertension is the factor that more than any other contributes to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. And unfortunately hypertension, understood as systolic blood pressure above 140mmHg and diastolic blood pressure above 90mmHg, is a very common condition. Suffice it to say that, based on estimates, one in three adults worldwide has hypertension. Hence the importance of counteracting high blood pressure and keeping it within the levels considered optimal. Diet certainly plays an essential role when it comes to hypertension. In particular, an excess of salt is associated with an increase in blood pressure values. A sedentary lifestyle and habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol also increase the risk of hypertension. But there is more. What we hear can also increase the risk of hypertension, especially if it is traffic noise. But let's try to understand better.
Traffic damages our body
Traffic is a source of pollution and noise. Over the years, studies have shown that living in the middle of busy streets increases the risk of respiratory diseases, but also of tinnitus and neurodegeneration, as well as causing sleep disturbances and worsening the quality of life. Scientists had also hypothesized that traffic may increase the risk of hypertension, but until now this link could not be clearly demonstrated. The research we are talking about today sheds light on this vitally important aspect.
Traffic noise increases risk of high blood pressure, the study
Scientists drew on data from 240,000 people, aged 40-69, from the UK Biobank database. All the volunteers, at the beginning of the study, did not have hypertension and were followed up for a period of 8 years in order to evaluate their state of health. Exposure to traffic noise and pollution was estimated for each study participant based on their residential address. Well, what has emerged is that the greater the exposure to traffic noise, the higher the risk of developing hypertension. Pollution also has its say when it comes to blood pressure. In fact, the highest risk of developing hypertension was found for those living in areas exposed to high levels of noise and pollution generated by traffic, involving a synergy between noise and pollution, although noise was found to be the determining factor in worsening blood pressure values.
The study shows that traffic, both as a cause of noise and pollution, can increase the risk of hypertension. This information should encourage the adoption of traffic control policies, even if this aspect does not depend on us personally. What we can certainly do is try to arrange our homes, where possible, so that the rooms where we spend the most time are away from the busy streets. Then, soundproof windows could be adopted and it is also important to avoid airing during the hours when the traffic is higher.