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A Little Carbon Monoxide May Be Good For You


Most of us think of carbon monoxide as being a toxic, even deadly gas without any redeeming health benefits. Yet a new study from Tel Aviv University found that low levels of carbon monoxide may be good for you if you live in a city.

Carbon monoxide is known as a silent killer

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is typically viewed as an environmental pollutant, mostly spewed from vehicles and industrial facilities. Other sources may be found in your home, including unvented gas and kerosene space heaters, leaky chimneys and furnaces, gas stoves, and back-draft from gas water heaters and furnaces. Cigarette smoke is also a source of carbon monoxide.

The source of carbon monoxide evaluated in this latest study was the busy urban streets of Tel Aviv, Israel’s busiest city. Scientists, under the direction of Professor Itzhak Schnell of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Geography and the Human Environment, set out to determine the impact of urban stressors on people’s daily lives.

A total of 36 healthy individuals ages 20 to 40 spent two days traveling the streets of Tel Aviv on foot and by public and private transportation while they were being monitored for four environmental stressors: heat and cold, noise pollution, carbon monoxide levels, and the impact of crowds.

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Researchers used a combination of self-reporting by the participants about their experiences along with data from sensors that measured pollutant levels and heart rate. What the investigators found was surprising.

The amount of carbon monoxide inhaled by the study subjects was not only much lower than the researchers had predicted, but the impact of the gas on the participants seemed to be beneficial. In fact, the carbon monoxide seemed to have a calming effect and to counteract the stress caused by the crowds and the noise, the latter of which was found to be the most significant stressor. At the same time, the gas did not seem to have a lasting negative effect on the subjects.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, low concentrations of carbon monoxide are typically associated with fatigue in healthy individuals and chest pain in people who have heart disease. When carbon monoxide levels are moderate, they can impact vision and coordination and cause headache, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. High concentrations can be deadly.

The results of this new study indicate that small doses of carbon monoxide may help city dwellers deal with environmental stress, such as noise and crowds. Schnell noted that future research will investigate the impact of environmental stressors on specific populations, such as the elderly, infants, and individuals with medical conditions.

American Friends/Tel Aviv University
Environmental Protection Agency

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons