Particulate Matter Exposure and Stress Hormone Levels: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Crossover Trial of Air Purification

Circulation. 2017 Aug 15;136(7):618-627. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.026796.


Background: Exposure to ambient particulate matter (PM) is associated with a number of adverse health outcomes, but potential mechanisms are largely unknown. Metabolomics represents a powerful approach to study global metabolic changes in response to environmental exposures. We therefore conducted this study to investigate changes in serum metabolites in response to the reduction of PM exposure among healthy college students.

Methods: We conducted a randomized, double-blind crossover trial in 55 healthy college students in Shanghai, China. Real and sham air purifiers were placed in participants' dormitories in random order for 9 days with a 12-day washout period. Serum metabolites were quantified by using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and ultrahigh performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Between-treatment differences in metabolites were examined using orthogonal partial least square-discriminant analysis and mixed-effect models. Secondary outcomes include blood pressure, corticotropin-releasing hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, insulin resistance, and biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation.

Results: The average personal exposure to PMs with aerodynamic diameters ≤2.5 μm was 24.3 μg/m3 during the real purification and 53.1 μg/m3 during the sham purification. Metabolomics analysis showed that higher exposure to PMs with aerodynamic diameters ≤2.5 μm led to significant increases in cortisol, cortisone, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Between-treatment differences were also observed for glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, and lipids. We found significantly higher blood pressure, hormones, insulin resistance, and biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation among individuals exposed to higher PMs with aerodynamic diameters ≤2.5 μm.

Conclusions: This study suggests that higher PM may induce metabolic alterations that are consistent with activations of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal and sympathetic-adrenal-medullary axes, adding potential mechanistic insights into the adverse health outcomes associated with PM. Furthermore, our study demonstrated short-term reductions in stress hormone following indoor air purification.

Clinical trial registration: URL: Unique identifier: NCT02712333.

Keywords: hormones; metabolomics; particulate matter; randomized controlled trial; stress, oxidative.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Air Filters*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • China
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Cortisone / blood
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Epinephrine / blood
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Hormones / blood*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Male
  • Metabolomics
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Hormones
  • Particulate Matter
  • Cortisone
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Epinephrine

Associated data