Biomass fuel smoke linked to higher blood pressure in Peru, study finds

March 30, 2015 – DCRI Fellow Melissa Burroughs Peña, MD, led the study, which examined rates of hypertension in a rural community in the mountains of Peru.

Burning biomass, and the resulting air pollution, has been linked to increased blood pressure and a higher prevalence of hypertension in a community in the mountains of Peru.

In a study published online this month in the journal Hypertension, DCRI Fellow Melissa Burroughs Peña, MD (pictured), and her colleagues examined the relationship between household air pollution and increased blood pressure in Puno, a city in southeastern Peru at 3,825 meters above sea level where biomass fuels are widely used.

melissa-burroughs-pena-newsHousehold air pollution caused by burning biomass fuel sources such as wood or animal manure has been linked with pulmonary ailments, and observational studies have suggested that biomass fuel use is associated with increased systemic blood pressure and an increased prevalence of hypertension, but the exact relationship between such pollution and cardiovascular health remains unclear.

To explore this question, the researchers conducted a longitudinal study of 1,004 residents of Puno aged 35 or older. Residents completed questionnaires about their biomass fuel use and medical history. Blood pressure data were gathered by a research team in the city. Participants who were most frequently exposed to burning biomass were more likely to be women and live in a rural setting, and had a lower prevalence of obesity, lower values of lung function, lower prevalence of tobacco smoking, increased physical activity, fewer years of education, and a lower wealth index than did participants who did not have frequent exposure to biomass fuel smoke.

Biomass fuel users had a higher systolic blood pressure (7.0 mm Hg) and a higher diastolic blood pressure (5.9 mm Hg) when compared with nonusers. Men and women appeared to be affected equally by burning biomass. The relationship between biomass fuel use and blood pressure was not modified by lung function.

The researchers noted that there are several mechanisms by which burning biomass could affect residents’ blood pressure, such as increased autonomic effects and systemic inflammation associated with the fine particulate matter released by burning organic matter.

They also noted that their findings comported with the conclusions of earlier observational studies of household air pollution from burning biomass fuel. However, as this study was limited to a single site, the researchers could not determine causation. Additional research is needed to fully understand the relationship between the two, they concluded.