Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Suicide tied to air pollution and asthma


updated 7/15/2010 3:57:11 AM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Air pollution and asthma symptoms may increase suicide risk, two new studies from Asia suggest.

According to Taiwanese researchers, as many as 1 in 14 suicides among Taiwanese youth may have been caused by asthma, a condition that affects about 10 percent of children.

"It points out another negative part of air pollution," said Dr. Wayne Katon, a psychiatrist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"In a way, suicide is a proxy for a bad effect on the whole society," added Katon, who was not involved in the new research.

Asthma has been linked to suicide before, but researchers say this is the first time the role of air quality has been tested.

Particle pollution - such as smoke, dust and heavy metals -- is known to irritate the airways and worsen asthma, and several studies have linked it to heart disease. Why it would make people more likely to kill themselves, however, is unclear.

One possibility is that worsening physical health might push vulnerable people over the edge, especially if they already have chronic disease, said Katon.

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In one study, researchers examined more than 4,000 suicides in seven major cities in South Korea. They found that spikes in particle pollution upped suicide risk by as much as 10 percent.

Overall, Dr. Changsoo Kim from the Yonsei University College of Medicine and colleagues write, about 23 in 100,000 South Koreans commit suicide.

Breaking down the data, those people who had been treated for heart disease in the year before they killed themselves seemed to be more influenced by pollution, with a 19 percent increase in suicide risk.

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