Air pollution is associated with 200,000 deaths each year in the U.S. The death toll is even higher in India and China, both countries where air pollution is out of control. And, it’s getting worse in other developing nations. If you live or work in New Delhi, India’s capital, your lifespan will be six years shorter.
It’s true that there is less pollution in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and the European Union because of stricter environmental laws. But even with tighter regulations, deaths from chronic respiratory disease are expected to increase.
Pollutants can linger for decades. Perhaps longer. The long-term effects of air pollution can last for an entire lifetime.
But how does all of this affect your overall health? Your cancer? Your breast health? I will be breaking down this new research into a 3 part blog series so that our readers can arm themselves with the most up-to-date understanding of the health effects of pollution.
The Far Reaches of Air Pollution
Air pollution doesn’t just irritate the sensitive membranes lining your nose, throat, and lungs that make you cough and wheeze. Air pollution is linked to increased risk for respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, asthma, chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD), and cancer.
New research found that pollutants in the air, our water, and our food alter body ecology. Pollutants disrupt the colonies of friendly bugs in our bodies in significant ways to make us sick.
Modern chronic diseases include obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disorders, and neurological conditions. My fieldwork among indigenous peoples who lived far from civilization and who maintain most of their traditional lifestyles and diets have none of these diseases.
Is there a single cause underlying chronic illnesses? Is it stress? Adrenal fatigue? Refined foods? Gluten? Meat? In my clinical experience, these are an over-simplification of a complex problem. I agree these are many manifestations of an underlying problem. But, are we looking in the wrong direction?
Environmental Effects of Air Pollution:
- Acidification – Chemical reactions from air pollution causes acidic compounds that harm vegetation, buildings, and living organisms.
- Eutrophication – Rain carries chemicals, including nitrogen necessary for plants, that imbalances soil and water biochemistry.
- Ozone – Chemical reactions from air pollution increase ozone, a poisonous gas that damages vegetation and impacts human and animal health.
- Particulates – This is what we most think about air pollution. The effect depends on the intensity and level of exposure. Immediate effect includes eye, nose, and throat irritation. Long-term effects are associated with modern chronic diseases.
Pollution also affects the central nervous system. It can cause the kind of brain damage associated with autism and schizophrenia. This type of neurological injury shows up as short-term memory loss, impulsivity, and learning disability. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are also linked to air pollution. The very young and older adults are the most susceptible.
Researchers found that air pollution triggers inflammation, a tipping point that progresses to neurotoxicity. The outcome and effects depend on age, gender, and genetics. Men are more susceptible than woman.
The latest research found that changes in bacteria pollutions in the lung influences health. Researchers also found that contaminants in the air have negative impacts on the gut microbiome.
Air Pollution’s Effects in the Body:
- Irritant to nose, throat, and lungs
- Increased risk of respiratory infection
- Can cause heart disease and stroke
- Can cause asthma and COPD
- Can cause cancer
- Linked to autism and schizophrenia
- Linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
- Linked to Crohn’s disease, appendicitis, and leaky gut
Air pollutants are substance in the air we breathe that harm human health and adversely affect the environment. Toxic pollutants can be in the form of solid particles, liquid droplets, or gasses. Air pollution also contains pollen, fungi, and endotoxins. All of these find their way into our body in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food that we eat.
Stay tuned for Part II in next week’s blog, where I will breakdown how the infiltration of these pollutants affects your gut microbiome, and ultimately your overall health. Then, for Part III, we will discuss how all of this intricately relates to breast health, cancer, and what you can do about it.