Study: Aspirin May Protect Lungs From Air Pollution

NEW YORK — Aspirin is already used to relieve a variety of pains and reduce inflammation, but a new study has discovered another possible benefit: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, may help diminish the harmful effects of air pollution on lung function. The research, conducted at Columbia University, is the first ever to report such evidence.

To come to their conclusions, the research team analyzed a dataset collected from 2,280 male veterans with an average age of 73 hailing from the Boston area. Each man was given multiple tests measuring their lung function and overall health. The relationship between each participant’s lung test results, self-reported NSAID (aspirin) use, and particulate matter (PM) / black carbon levels in Boston during the month prior to testing was evaluated. Additional factors were also considered, such as each man’s personal medical history and whether or not he was a regular smoker.

Researchers discovered that the use of any NSAID mitigated the negative effect of PM on lung function by nearly half. This finding was consistent across all four air pollution readings taken during the study, ranging from PM levels collected on the very same day that lung testing took place, to as long ago as 28 days prior to testing.

Most of the participants in the study were taking aspirin, so the study author’s say their findings apply mainly to aspirin specifically. That being said, they also believe non-aspirin NSAIDs likely have the same positive effect on lung function and should be investigated further.

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As far as how aspirin is benefitting lung function, researchers speculate that it helps relieve inflammation brought on by air pollution exposure.

“Our findings suggest that aspirin and other NSAIDs may protect the lungs from short-term spikes in air pollution,” says first author Dr. Xu Gao, a post-doctoral research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School, in a release. “Of course, it is still important to minimize our exposure to air pollution, which is linked to a host of adverse health effects, from cancer to cardiovascular disease.”

“While environmental policies have made considerable progress toward reducing our overall exposure to air pollution, even in places with low levels of air pollution, short-term spikes are still commonplace,” comments senior author Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School. “For this reason, it is important to identify means to minimize those harms.”

It’s worth mentioning that an earlier study conducted by Dr. Baccarelli found that B vitamins may be helpful in mitigating the negative health consequences of air pollution as well.

The study is published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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