The Link between Air Pollution and Disease
Regular inhalation of pollution has a permanent damaging effect on our lungs. That much is obvious. We’ve been aware of this harmful effect for quite some time, and have even taken measures to reduce pollution because of it. But harm to our lungs may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Studies show that chronic exposure to air pollution may cause permanent brain damage, and one in particular case, has uncovered a link between air pollution and disease. Chronic inhalation of air pollution can activate a protein that triggers release of white blood cells. These additional and unnecessary white blood cells can set off a chain of events that lead to inflammation throughout the body. What is interesting about this discovery is that it provides a nearly complete explanation for why prolonged exposure to air pollution increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular complications and a wide array of other health issues.
Conducted by scientists at Ohio State University, the study involved exposing mice to pollution levels that are common in America’s urban areas. What they found was that the exposure was causing white blood cells to seep from bone marrow into the bloodstream. Once there, the white blood cells would compromise the integrity of vessel walls. They would also collect in fat tissue, where they release chemicals that cause even further inflammation. In the normal immune system of mice, as in humans, the system’s response to a pathogen or foreign body requires some inflammation, and the white blood cells play this role. However, those cells play no other role, and as the levels build up, they start to have an extremely harmful effect on the body.
Therefore, the air pollution is triggering over activity in the immune system, and that over activity makes the mice more susceptible to a range of diseases. How the air pollution actually triggers the over activity is still a mystery. Scientists believe that it begins with fluid in the lungs.
The air pollution changes the molecular structure of the fluid, and that change activates a receptor known as toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). Why the activation occurs precisely is unknown. However, once activated, the receptor sets off this extremely harmful cascade of unnecessary white blood cells into the bloodstream. During the study, scientists noted that after an extended period, exposed mice were no longer able to produce as much inflammation. It’s as if the over activity exhausted the TLR4.
This has a number of implications. Perhaps most importantly, it indicates that the TLR4 plays a significant role in the immune system. It also implies that this exhaustion could lead to a wide array of susceptibilities not so easily linked to the air pollution causing them. Researchers also discovered that there was an increase in superoxide in the bloodstreams of the exposed mice.
The immune system uses super oxides to destroy pathogens, but if there are no pathogens, the superoxide become a toxin in the bloodstream. These toxins can lead to hypertension, high blood pressure and other severe issues. Interestingly, pollution exposure has less of an effect on mice that naturally had lesser ability to create superoxides. It’s important to note that monocytes and cytokines, which are related to the creation of these super oxides, are found throughout the bodies of all animals, including humans. When we think about air pollution, we tend to think of it solely in terms of the damage it causes our lungs. However, because these chemicals exist throughout the body, it means that chronic exposure to air pollution can create inflammation anywhere in the body.
In our modern world, especially if you live in an urban area, avoiding air pollution entirely is impossible. It is, however, possible to take steps to reduce your exposure significantly.
One important step we can take is to use filtration in our homes, particularly HEPA air filtration, since people spend a majority of their time indoors. HEPA is the most sophisticated and cost-efficient tool available for removing airborne pollutants and contaminants from your air. Clean Air Plus specializes in HEPA filtration, and we have years of experience helping other families as well as our own.
- Administration Staff