01:35am Sunday 24 September 2017

Particulate Air Pollution: Exposure to Ultrafine Particles Influences Cardiac Function

Particulate Air Pollution: Exposure to Ultrafine Particles Influences Cardiac Function

Image: A. Peters (left), A. Schneider (right), Source: Helmholtz Zentrum München

Inhalable particles include all particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10). In this group a distinction is made between even finer particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) in diameter, which can deeply enter the lung, and ultrafine particles with diameters less than 0.1 micrometers (100 nanometers), which can also enter the blood stream.

The research team at Helmholtz Zentrum München led by Prof. Dr. Annette Peters, head of the research program Epidemiology at the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), and Dr. Alexandra Schneider together with colleagues of the University of Rochester (USA), studied how ultrafine particles specifically affect the heart. They provided 64 study participants with measuring devices which recorded particle number concentrations as well as the heart activity (ECG, electrocardiogram) during daily activities. Furthermore, data from an urban background station for particulate matter were considered. The recruited participants had a confirmed diagnosis of impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) or type 2 diabetes.

Change in heart rate variability after only short-term exposure

“Elevated concentrations of ultrafine particles, e.g. in dense road traffic, led to a change in heart rate variability* of the participants after only five minutes,” said Peters. “Moreover, we were able to confirm effects that are already known, for example that fine particles over the course of an hour and noise are associated with impaired cardiac function.

”The adverse health effects of inhalable and/or fine particles have already been established in other studies. In the present study they occur below the EU threshold limit value, which has existed for the last ten years. The role of ultrafine particles, however, is unclear: Scientists expect additional adverse health effects – but to date no threshold limit values have been established.

Health risks – demand for threshold limit values

“The results are alarming because ultrafine particles occur generally in the environment and pose health risks for all of us – but especially for people who already have an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, such as the individuals with diabetes in this study,” said Peters. “We hope that with our data, we can substantiate the demands for threshold limit values and environmental standards in the future.”

Read more here about the scientific findings on the health effects of fine dust and noise:

Particulate Air Pollution Leads to Increased Heart Attack Risk, Results of the ESCAPE Study, press release of Helmholtz Zentrum München from January 22, 2014

Exposure to Everyday Noise Influences Heart Rate Variability, press release of Helmholtz Zentrum München from May 2, 2013


Further Information

* Heart rate variability describes the adaptability of the individual’s cardiovascular system to the demands of the current situation and is controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

Original publication:
Peters, A. et al. (2015), Elevated particle number concentrations induce immediate changes in heart rate variability: a panel study in individuals with impaired glucose metabolism or diabetes, Particle & Fibre Toxicology, doi: 10.1186/s12989-015-0083-7

Link to publication

To the blog network BioMed Central: “Air pollution could exacerbate cardiovascular disease in diabetes patients”

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,300 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research.

The German Center for Diabetes Research e.V. brings together experts in the field of diabetes research and combines basic research, epidemiology and clinical applications. The members of the association are the German Diabetes Center (DDZ) in Düsseldorf, the German Institute of Human Nutrition (DifE) in Potsdam-Rehbrücke, the Helmholtz Zentrum München – the German Research Center for Environmental Health, the Paul Langerhans Institutes of the Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital in Dresden and the Eberhard Karl University of Tübingen as well as the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Research Association and the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers. The aim of the DZD is to find answers to unsolved questions in diabetes research by adopting a novel, integrative approach and to make a significant contribution towards improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes mellitus.

The Institute of Epidemiology II (EPI II) focuses on the assessment of environmental and lifestyle risk factors which jointly affect major chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and mental health. Research builds on the unique resources of the KORA cohort, the KORA myocardial infarction registry, and the KORA aerosol measurement station. Aging-related phenotypes have been added to the KORA research portfolio within the frame of the Research Consortium KORA-Age. The institute’s contributions are specifically relevant for the population as modifiable personal risk factors are being researched that could be influenced by the individual or by improving legislation for the protection of public health.

KORA (Cooperative Health Research in the Augsburg Region)
For more than 20 years, KORA has been collecting and analyzing data on the health of thousands of people living in the Augsburg region. The objective is to elucidate the effects of environmental factors, behavior and genes. KORA focuses on the development and course of chronic diseases, in particular myocardial infarction and diabetes mellitus. Risk factors are analyzed with regard to individual health behavior (e.g. smoking, diet, exercise), environmental factors (e.g. air pollution, noise) and genetics. From the perspective of health care research, questions regarding the utilization of health care resources and the cost of health care are also studied.

Scientific contact
Prof. Annette Peters, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Institute of Epidemiology II, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg – Phone: 089-3187-4566 – Email

Share on:

Health news