Measures to support a healthy heart may also help mitigate pollution-related lung infections

Firefighters extinguish flames from a fire and are surrounding by smoke.

Metabolic factors that support a healthy heart may also mitigate the risk of future lung damage associated with breathing tiny air pollution particles, according to an NHLBI-supported study with more than 5,000 New York City firefighters who served as first responders at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.  

As researchers analyzed post-Sept. 11 lung infection rates among the firefighters, they found that those who had cardiovascular disease risk factors, a history of smoking, and arrived in the morning were more likely to develop post-event lung infections. The researchers further analyzed the impact that metabolic syndrome, which included having at least three cardiovascular disease risk factors – obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or insulin resistance – had in conjunction with other factors, like smoking and total exposure to air pollution that day, on the likelihood of developing lung infections. Body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol had the strongest link, but researchers found small changes were associated with a reduced risk of WTC-related lung infections. For example, losing seven pounds, about one BMI point, connected with a reduced risk of WTC lung infections by 20%. Improving HDL cholesterol by 10 mg/dL was associated with an 89% reduced risk. Lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 10 mm Hg was associated, respectively, with a 75% and 136% reduced risk of WTC lung infections. The authors note this study may guide future treatment and research and shows how cardiovascular health outcomes can impact the heart and lungs.  

The authors dedicated the paper, which published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, to the New York City Fire Department first responders and expressed gratitude for their sacrifice in the line of duty.