Use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may mitigate the detrimental effects of air pollution exposure on lung functions, according to a paper published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Air pollution can cause inflammation and oxidative damage in the respiratory system and the interstitial spaces of the lung. These pathways of damage in turn may lead to disturbance in pulmonary airway functions, which can exacerbate lung diseases, decrease our immune function, and hence opening doors to host of other diseases.

Aspirin may lessen the adverse effects of air pollution exposure on lung function.
Aspirin may reduce the effects of air pollution exposure on lung function, says the team of researchers from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine

So in order to explore how aspirin and other NSAIDs protect lungs from air pollution, the team analyzed a subset of data collected from a cohort of 2,280 male participants who were given tests to determine their lung function.

Then upon examining the relationship between the test results, self-reported NSAID use, and exposure to ambient particulate matter (PM) and black carbon in the month preceding the test, they found that the use of NSAIDs reduce the effect of PM on lung function by almost half.  The effect seemed to work even when they accounted for a variety of factors, including smoking history and health status of the participants.

The team also added that the results they observed mainly stemmed from use of aspirin since significant portion of the participants in the study cohort who took NSAIDs were aspirin users. However, they said that they are yet to scout how non-aspirin NSAIDs would play out – the effects of which are definitely worthy of further exploration.

“Our findings suggest that aspirin and other NSAIDs may protect the lungs from short-term spikes in air pollution,” explained lead author Xu Gao, PhD, a post-doctoral research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School in a news release. “Of course, it is still important to minimize our exposure to air pollution, which is linked to a host of adverse health effects, from cancer to cardiovascular disease.”

“While environmental policies have made considerable progress toward reducing our overall exposure to air pollution, even in places with low levels of air pollution, short-term spikes are still commonplace,” said senior author Andrea Baccarelli, chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School. “For this reason, it is important to identify means to minimize those harms.”

The effectiveness of B vitamins in reducing the risk of respiratory inflammation had also been addressed in an earlier study by the same team.