Could the suburb you live in be an indicator of stroke risk?

Could your postcode be an indicator of your risk of suffering a stroke? A new study suggests that may well be the case.

Evidence in the study, published in Science Direct, indicates that those who live in areas with long-term exposure to air pollution, particularly nitrogen dioxide, have an increased risk of ischaemic stroke – the most common type of stroke.

On the flipside, the research showed that those who live in residential areas surrounding green space had a lower risk of ischaemic stroke.

The study examined the effect of the exposure of three atmospheric particles – fine particulate matter, black carbon and nitrogen dioxide – on more than three-and-half million residents in the Spanish region of Catalonia.

Read: How air pollution affects brain function

Researchers found that “long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide was significantly associated with higher incidence of ischaemic stroke”. Road traffic has been identified as the main contributor to higher nitrogen dioxide levels, suggesting proximity to major roads is a risk factor.

However, if you are lucky enough to live close (within 300 metres) to a green space, your risk of ischaemic stroke may be reduced. The researchers found that, while they “observed residential surrounding green space to be related with lower risk of stroke”, the reasons for that were not clear. Other factors, such as physical activities and social interaction, may also play a part.

Read: ‘Super plants’ could help reduce air pollution in your home and garden

Previous studies have indicated that green spaces may reduce levels of fine particulate matter, whichhas long been identified as one of the most dangerous pollutants because it can pass directly through human lungs and into the blood system.

The latest study confirms a 2019 paper, which observed that “individuals living and working in areas of heavy vehicle traffic have high susceptibility to anxiety, depression and cognitive deficits”.

The evidence is also strong on a converse effect of green space on mental health, specifically on psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and mood disorder. Access to nature has also been found to improve sleep and reduce stress, increase happiness and reduce negative emotions.

Read: Living at higher altitudes could lower your stroke risk

There is solid evidence that being in green environments boosts various aspects of thinking, including attention, memory and creativity, in people both with and without depression.

So, is your postcode a likely factor in determining your risk of suffering a stroke? The answer is almost certainly yes, given the variation in traffic levels and open green spaces between city and rural areas and even between suburbs within cities.

Moving to a postcode that lowers those risks is not within the practical scope of many, however. Kermit the frog once sang that it’s not easy being green. For many, it’s also not easy to find a space to live in that is green.

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

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