By Dr. Stephen Pastan
You may have seen the study that came out this week stating that living near a major roadway can increase the risk of developing kidney problems. Researchers examining stroke patients found that those who lived closer to a major road had reduced kidney function, comparable to a person four years older. That means their kidneys lost four years of life, or about 4% function, simply due to where they live. This is the latest finding that shows adverse health effects from living close to major roadways, such as an increased risk of death after heart attack. The presumed cause of this cardiovascular and kidney stress may result from the ill effects of traffic-related air pollution, although noise pollution or other urban stressors could also be playing a role.
It should be noted that the patients in these studies were at high risk for vascular disease, in this case stroke patients, who may be more susceptible to the damaging effects of pollutants than the general population. But it does make me question whether patients who already have chronic kidney disease may also be more sensitive to pollutants – we know that smoking cigarettes worsens chronic kidney disease. This is a good area for future research. Statistical associations are not always found to hold up over the long term — initial data on the cancer risk from living near power lines have not panned out, and we are still debating whether cell phones cause brain cancer. However, these findings are another reason to push for cleaner cars and cleaner air. And now would be a good time to stop smoking.
Dr. Stephen Pastan is a member of the National Kidney Foundation’s Board of Directors. He is also Medical Director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia