Risk of Obesity Higher in Rats Exposed to Air Pollution

While high levels of air pollution have been correlated with increased mortality, a new study by Duke University adds to the growing concern on the dangers of air pollution. A study by Wei et al. that will appear in the March issue of the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) examined the effects of exposure to Beijing’s highly polluted air on the weight and metabolism of pregnant rats.

The researchers put pregnant rats and their offspring in two chambers. The rats in one of the chambers were exposed to outdoor air from Beijing, while the air in the other chamber was filtered to remove most of the particles of air pollution.

After 3 to 8 weeks of exposure, the rats who breathed the highly polluted air experienced metabolic dysfunctions and gained weight. The researchers found significant effects after only 19 days of exposure to the polluted air:

  • LDL cholesterol 50% higher
  • Triglycerides 46% higher
  • Total cholesterol 97% higher
  • Lungs and livers showed increased inflammation and were heavier

In addition, the rats exposed to polluted air had a higher level of insulin resistance. This condition increases the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.

All of these data suggest that exposure to air pollution results in metabolic dysfunction. This condition is a precursor to obesity. In fact, even though the rats in both groups were fed the same diet, the rats exposed to air pollution were significantly heavier than the rats in the control chamber.

These results are consistent with previous studies linking air pollution to altered fat tissues and increased insulin resistance. If verified in humans, these results will provide further evidence of the gravity of exposure to air pollution in today’s world.


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