Young adults may be at risk for developing blood vessel damage because of air pollution, according to a new study by a University of Louisville researcher.

“These findings suggest that living in a polluted environment could promote the development of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke more pervasively and at an earlier stage than previously thought,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D., study co-author and chair in medicine at U of L.

The findings are important because until now, it was only thought that air pollution affected the elderly or sick. The study was published in the American Heart Association journal “Circulation Research.”

Seventy-two healthy, nonsmoking adults in Provo, Utah, participated. During the winters of 2013, 2014 and 2015, participants provided blood samples that were then analyzed.

Researchers tracked fine particulate matter, or tiny pieces of solid or liquid pollution emitted from cars, fires, smoking and power plants. They found that periodic exposure to the pollution resulted in signs of cardiovascular disease.

The connection between pollution and health has been made before but not specifically for young, healthy people. For instance, earlier this year an analysis in the journal “Hypertension” showed that air pollution is linked to high blood pressure. Authors advised people already suffering from high blood pressure to limit outdoor exposure during poor air quality alerts.

Previous studies have linked air pollution generated by cooking or heating with certain fuels like kerosene or diesel with an increased risk of heart attacks. Researchers examined 50,045 people and found that exposure to pollution from the cooking fuels was linked to a higher rate of heart disease and cardiovascular death.