News Flash: Air Pollution and Your Health, Red Meat and Breast Cancer Risk, and More Health News

E very week, we bring you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we examine just how harmful smog is for your health, the link between red meat consumption and breast cancer risk, and how social media takes a greater toll on the mental health of girls.

Smog is bad for your lungs and your brain

Two new studies underline the threat that air pollution poses not only to your body but also to your brain.

One study published this week in JAMA reported that people who were exposed for years to higher-than-average concentrations of ground-level ozone—the main component of smog—developed changes to their lungs similar to those seen in smokers.

“We found that an increase of about three parts per billion [of ground-level ozone] outside your home was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years,” study author Dr. Joel Kaufman, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Washington, told NPR.

The study of nearly 7,000 adults living in Chicago; Los Angeles; Baltimore; New York City; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, involved people exposed to annual average concentrations of between 10 and 25 parts per billion of ground-level ozone outside their homes and measured lung damage over a decade with regular CT scans. But the study’s authors say that people all over the country can be exposed to these same levels of ozone from car tailpipes and smokestacks. Moreover, because ozone is higher on hot, sunny days, experts say climate change could make ozone a bigger problem for more of the population.

Some scientists in this Globe and Mail article suggest that it may be taking a greater toll on our brain than we give it credit for. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution contributes to an estimated 4.2 million deaths a year worldwide due to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But an increasing body of research suggests dirty air also may alter the way people think and act.

In recent years, studies have linked air pollution to an array of psychological, behavioral and neurological problems, from suicide and teenage delinquency to anxiety, depression and dementia.

Red meat ups breast cancer risk, white meat dials it down

By now, you’ve probably heard that the saturated fat in red meat contributes to heart disease. But did you know that it ups a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer, as well?

Researchers in this New York Times article studied the health and diet habits of 42,000 women for seven and a half years, and those in the highest quarter for red meat consumption were 23 percent more likely to develop invasive breast cancer, while those in the highest quarter for white meat consumption (think chicken and turkey) were 15 percent less likely to develop it than the lowest quarter. These links were stronger for women after menopause, researchers said.

The strongest reduction in risk—28 percent less—was among women who had the highest ratio of white to red meat, in effect, swapping out one for another.

“Here, we show that eating white meat decreases your risk and that eating red meat increases it by a small amount,” senior author Dale P. Sandler, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with the National Institutes of Health, told the Times. If women reduced their consumption of red meat, it would reduce their risk for cancer.”

Social media hurts girls more than boys

Social media use among teens has been linked to depression, particularly in teenage girls. A new study covered by CNN Health shines a light on why girls are so affected.

Interviews with more than 10,000 teens between the age of 13 and 16 showed that social media may harm girls’ mental health by increasing their exposure to bullying and reducing their sleep and physical exercise.

So social media itself might not be to blame for mental health issues. Rather, it is the time it sucks from sleep, movement and other positive pursuits while simultaneously exposing users to cyberbullying that’s the issue. Social media for boys did not have the same effect.

Still, researchers found that in both sexes, very frequent social media use was associated with greater psychological distress. And with girls, this effect was especially strong. The more they checked Instagram or other social media, the greater their psychological distress.

Photo credit: Gorodenkoff, Adobe Stock