Harvard health study suggests stressful environment worsens effects of dirty air

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Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say that rats under chronic stress may be more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution.

With research on health effects from air pollution on the rise, scientists are interested in how collective stress may influence health too.

Earlier research has focused on the effects of violence and fear of violence – like gang activity.

In this study at Harvard, researchers took 2 dozen rats and exposed them to different combinations of dirty air and stressful environments. For a rat, stress means confinement in a small cage with an alpha rat.

What scientists found in this limited-scale experiment is that stressed rats in dirty air breathed more shallowly and faster than usual.

They don't know yet why the rats behaved differently, but the study’s authors say their tests support the idea that living in a stressful environment can worsen the health effects of dirty air.

The study will appear soon in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.