wood stove
A new study from Canada found that regular exposure to the black carbon pollutants in wood smoke can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.Michael E. Lee/Flickr

Cooking food over a traditional wood-burning stove is believed to improve the taste. It is also widely used to heat homes in many countries. However, it turns out that the risks associated with this cooking and heating method outweigh its benefits.

A new study from Canada found that regular exposure to the black carbon pollutants in wood smoke can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases in women.

For confirming this, researchers from McGill University recorded levels of different types of air pollutants present in the rural Yunnan province of China. During the study, about 280 women wore air samplers to measure the fine particular matter present in the environment.

The samples were later analysed to determine the participants' exposure to each pollutant. Salt intake, physical activity, blood pressure, body mass index and the women's proximity to highways were also taken into consideration.

Results showed that exposure to the black carbon pollutants from burning wood led to high blood pressure in participants.

"We found that exposure to black carbon pollutants had the largest impact on women's blood pressure, which directly impacts cardiovascular risk. In fact, black carbon's effect was twice that of particulate matter, the pollutant measured most often in health studies or evaluating cleaner cookstoves," researcher Jill Baumgartner from McGill's Institute for the Health and Social Policy, said in a news release."

Participants who were exposed to both wood smoke and traffic emissions had three times higher blood pressure than those who were only exposed to wood smoke. "Policies that decrease combustion pollution by replacing inefficient wood stoves and reducing traffic pollution will likely benefit both climate and public health," Baumgartner, said.

The findings reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) support previous warnings released by experts. The small particles can remain many months in the lungs and can cause structural damage and chemical changes to the organ and also increase risk of heart attacks and strokes, a report posted on Environment and Human Health, Inc. read.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that, fine particles in wood smoke poses risk to both heart and lungs. In addition, according to them, particle pollution can also affect normal lung function, worsen asthma, cause irregular heartbeat, respiratory problems, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and premature death.

The pollutants produced while burning wood in fireplaces, woodstoves, include sulphur oxides, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, formaldehyde and dioxins. EPA said that some of these pollutants are carcinogenic to human.