Exhaust fumes: more harmful consequences for women than for men


  • Air pollution is characterized by a range of gases and particles suspended in the air. Their concentration depends on emissions and weather conditions.
  • This air pollution can cause heart disease, asthma attacks or even lung cancer.

Cardiovascular diseases, allergies, asthma attacks, lung or skin cancer… Air pollution can have serious health consequences. In particular, the combustion of fuels emitted by cars can cause major damage. A team of Canadian researchers has observed that the effects of inhaling diesel exhaust fumes are more severe in women than in men. Their results were presented at the last international congress of the European Respiratory Society in Barcelona (Spain).

Healthy non-smoking volunteers

The research was conducted by the team of Professor Neeloffer Mookherjee from the University of Manitoba and Professor Chris Carlsten from the University of British Columbia (Canada). The two teams recruited five healthy non-smoking women and five men. As part of the study, the volunteers breathed air containing diesel exhaust at three different concentrations: 20, 50 and 150 micrograms of particulate matter (PM2.5) per cubic metre. A four-week break was taken between each exposure.

During their presentation, the scientists stated that the annual limit value for PM2.5 within the European Union is 25 micrograms per cubic metre. However, they pointed out that higher peaks are very common in many cities.

With each inhalation, the researchers took a blood sample from all participants. They then analyzed their plasma using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, an analysis technology. The aim was to identify changes in the levels of various proteins after exposure to diesel exhaust in women and men.

Women at higher risk of respiratory disease

Results: The levels of 90 proteins were different between female participants and male subjects. In particular, scientists have identified changes in blood components that are linked to cardiovascular disease and inflammation. Air pollution could therefore impact our immune response to chronic diseases.

“These are preliminary results, but they show that exposure to diesel engine exhaust has different effects on the bodies of women and men, which could indicate that air pollution is more dangerous for women than for men. underlined Professor Neeloffer Mookherjee. And he adds: “This is important because respiratory diseases like asthma are known to affect women and men differently. Men are more likely to have severe asthma that does not respond to treatment. Therefore, we need to know a lot more about how women and men respond to air pollution and what this means for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of respiratory diseases.”

In the future, researchers plan to expand the study of serum protein functions to better understand their role in the differences between female and male immune responses.

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