Colorado State University Researcher to Study Impact of Diet on Relationship between Secondhand Smoke and Cardiovascular Disease

Note to Reporters: A photo of Maggie Clark is available with the news release at

Health records of 900 people in Singapore could help an up-and-coming Colorado State University researcher gain insight into how dietary nutrients may protect against the effects of indoor air pollutants on the development of cardiovascular disease, a topic relevant to all populations.

Maggie Clark, an environmental epidemiologist and researcher in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, has received a two-year, $140,000 grant to work with Professor Lesley Butler, formerly of CSU and now at the University of Pittsburgh, to identify people who have been exposed to such indoor air pollution sources as secondhand smoke and incense.

The study will rely on a well-respected database known as the Singapore Chinese Health Study, which has captured detailed health information from more than 63,000 people since 1993 in collaboration the National University of Singapore.

The ultimate goal of the research is to identify whether diets high in factors, such as Omega-3 fatty acids or fiber, can reduce or eliminate the adverse cardiovascular-related health effects of indoor air pollutants. Air pollutant exposures are universal and often unintentional; therefore, identifying these dietary factors could have far-reaching, beneficial public health consequences.

“We think the adverse health effects of air pollution on cardiovascular disease likely work through mechanisms involving inflammation and oxidative stress,” Clark said. “Because of this, we are interested in studying the potential modifying effects that diets high in anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties may have on these common environmental exposures.”

Clark and her colleagues in the department – in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences – also research the impact of cleaner-burning cookstoves on people who cook with wood on open fires and makeshift stoves. The majority of their work has occurred in Nicaragua and Honduras in the hopes of identifying cookstoves that are both cleaner-burning – thereby reducing smoke exposures – and culturally acceptable. Cleaner-burning cookstoves that are sustainably used could improve the health conditions of millions of women and children in developing countries.

“Pollution from secondhand smoke and incense burning has many similarities to the combustion-related particulate matter pollution from cookstoves,” she said. “It’s the smaller sizes of these types of particles that we think are most relevant to causing cardiovascular illness. They’re small enough that they can get into the alveoli of the lung, and that leads to systemic inflammation and potentially cardiovascular disease outcomes.”

Clark, who is transitioning into a faculty position at CSU, said the American Heart Association especially liked the project because it primarily relies on existing data, which is an efficient use of research dollars.