The Nation's Health + [Mental Health]

Heart scans: Heavy traffic and heart scans

A German study just reported in Circulation showed a graded response of EBT heart scan scores and proximity to traffic.

Living 50 meters (around 150 feet) from traffic increased the likelihood of a higher coronary calcium score by 63% compared to those living 200 meters (around 600 feet or two football fields) away from traffic.

A sample news story can be found at http://healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=606431.

The German investigators speculated that either the heightened exposure to exhaust fumes and/or the increased stress triggered by the constant noise might be the culprits behind the phenomenon.

I think the study is interesting in a number of ways from the Track Your Plaque viewpoint:

--Sometimes, there are factors that extend beyond lipoproteins, vitamin D restoration, optimism vs. pessimism, etc. that influence heart scan scoring. Are these factors powerful enough to overcome the adverse effects of traffic or other environmental effects? Can your proximity to traffic make or break your heart scan score-controlling efforts? This remains to be established.

--How much of a role does the stress issue play? Is this just a variation of the optimism vs. pessimism theme? I know when I'm in traffic in a car or on a bicycle, it often feels like I am at the mercy of hordes of people in a hurry, the soccer Moms on cell phones, applying makeup and eating, the hormonal teenager, the occasional drunk. Living in the midst of it must be demoralizing, a sense that you are lost in a sea of uncaring humanity stripped of individuality. When I look outside my den window right now, I see the lawn that I cut and water and the flowers and evergreen trees I've planted over the years. It provides a sense of life, belonging, and earth. What if instead I saw anonymous cars buzzing by, dozens of unfamiliar faces every minute, none of which plays any palpable role in my life?

--This simple observation will add to the healthy-consciousness and Green movements, since it is just one more piece of evidence that congestion and urbanization do indeed take their toll. In an obtuse way, I think this is one step closer to increasing disillusionment over the "over-processing" of human experience: processed foods, depersonalization and alienation in neighborhoods and homes, the dissolution of the American family.

Lastly, notice how the conversation about CT (in this case, EBT) heart scanning has seamlessly worked its way into conversation? Just ten years ago, a long-winded explanation would have been required in press reports on just what CT heart scanning was. Now, the information is presented and--well, we all know what heart scanning is, right?

A small study but one that comes at an important time. Good things will come from this one study. It will work its way into discussions about where to locate schools, how to situate homes in relation to heavy traffic, it will help "legitimize" this wonderful tool called heart scanning. How many medical tests beyond blood work can be easily performed in 4500 study participants?

I always like to take some simple observation and see how it fits into developing trends. Few studies or other human-generated experiences by themselves change the world. Instead, it happens in little incremental bits and pieces.