Background Biomass fuels are used for cooking in the majority of rural households worldwide. While their use is associated with an increased risk of lung diseases and all-cause mortality, the effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD) are not well characterised. Exposure to biomass fuel smoke has been associated with lung-mediated inflammation and oxidative stress, which may increase the risk of atherosclerosis as evaluated by carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT), carotid atherosclerotic plaque prevalence and blood pressure.
Methods A cross-sectional study was performed in 266 adults aged ≥35 years in Puno, Peru (3825 m above sea level). We stratified participants by their long-term history of exposure to clean fuel (n=112) or biomass fuel (n=154) and measured 24 h indoor particulate matter (PM2.5) in a random subset (n=84). Participants completed questionnaires and underwent a clinical assessment, laboratory analyses and carotid artery ultrasound. The main outcome measures were CIMT, carotid plaque and blood pressure.
Results The groups were similar in age and gender. The biomass fuel group had greater unadjusted mean CIMT (0.66 vs 0.60 mm; p<0.001), carotid plaque prevalence (26% vs 14%; p=0.03), systolic blood pressure (118 vs 111 mm Hg; p<0.001) and median household PM2.5 (280 vs 14 µg/m3; p<0.001). In multivariable regression, the biomass fuel group had greater mean CIMT (mean difference=0.03 mm, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.06; p=0.02), a higher prevalence of carotid plaques (OR=2.6, 95% CI 1.1 to 6.0; p=0.03) and higher systolic blood pressure (mean difference=9.2 mm Hg, 95% CI 5.4 to 13.0; p<0.001).
Conclusions Chronic exposure to biomass fuel was associated with increased CIMT, increased prevalence of atherosclerotic plaques and higher blood pressure. These findings identify biomass fuel use as a risk factor for CVD, which may have important global health implications.