We all know that air pollution is bad for the lungs, heart and sinuses. But a new research reveals, it may also be responsible for your expanding waistline.
Reported that lab rats who breathed Beijing’s highly polluted air for three to eight weeks gained significantly more weight than a control group, and developed a slew of other obesity-related health problems as well. Study led by Duke University professor of global and environmental health Junfeng “Jim” Zhang, indicates that long-term exposure to polluted air may also cause metabolic and inflammatory changes that lead to obesity.
Physical Changes caused as a result of Air Pollution
- Change in your Brain: The physical changes caused in the brain as a result of air pollution are not beneficial. They are associated with learning and memory problems and even depression. Study published online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry shows the negative impact of air pollution on the brain. The results suggest prolonged exposure to polluted air can have visible, negative effects on the brain, which can lead to a variety of health problems. Changes in learning, memory and mood have been reported as a result of air pollution. Neurons (nerve cells) known as dendrites were reported changed. Normally, dendrites have small projections growing off them, dubbed spines, which transmit signals from one neuron to another. But in the mice exposed to polluted air, there were shorter dendrites, fewer dendrite spikes and, overall, a reduction in the complexity of brain cells.
- Lung Affected: The polluted air containing the same type of pollution created by cars, factories and natural dust and includes very fine particulate matter — particles so minute they are only about 1/30th of the average width of a human hair. Because of their small size, these particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and end up in other organs of the body. Air pollution is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. There was enough evidence to say that a specific part of air pollution known as PM 2.5 (solid dust-like particles, or ‘Particulate Matter’, less than 2.5 millionths of a metre across) can cause cancer.
- Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure: Breathing polluted air for even two hours can boost blood pressure, potentially raising the risk of cardiovascular disease in those exposed to smog. Air pollution and High Blood Pressure According to Dr. Robert D. Brook, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan ” this small increase may actually be able to a trigger a heart attack or stroke” The air pollution causes diastolic pressure — the lower number in a blood pressure reading — to rise within two hours. Blood vessels are impaired for as long as 24 hours. Tests showed that microscopic particles in the air, rather than ozone gases, cause the rise in blood pressure and impair blood vessel function.
- Another Cause of Obesity: A recent study led by Duke University professor of global and environmental health Junfeng “Jim” Zhang, indicates that long-term exposure to polluted air may also cause metabolic and inflammatory changes that lead to obesity. The study findings were reported in Beijing, which is surrounded by mountains that help to trap emissions from its factories, automobiles and the coal-fired boilers that many homes still have. Between 2008 and 2015, the Chinese capital averaged a daily Air Quality Index of 100, four times above the healthy limit. In December, the pollution grew so severe that officials called Beijing’s first-ever 72-hour pollution alert, in which vehicle traffic was restricted.
- Breathing high levels of ozone could also affect women’s ability to conceive: “We found that breathing ozone on the day of ovulation not only decreased progesterone levels in female mice, but also reduced the number of ovulated eggs,” explained Carla R. Caruso, M.D, a resident physician at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine who presented this research at the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP) Annual Meeting during the Experimental Biology 2015 meeting. “In addition, this acute exposure to ozone affected important brain and ovarian signaling events that are key for the ovulation process.”.
Sources of air pollution can be man-made, such as fumes from vehicles and smoke from burning fuels. While others, such as North African desert dust and radon gas, are natural. The pollutants of most concern are:
- Ground-level ozone – the principal component of smog
- Fine particles in the air known as particulate matter, and
- Air toxics – chemicals in the air that can cause cancer and other health problems.
According to the IARC, the predominant artificial sources of outdoor air pollution are transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooking.
What can I do?
As individuals, we can play our part in reducing air pollution levels by trying to avoid creating more of it. Choosing ‘active travel’ options where possible, like walking and cycling, can help reduce pollution levels from transport and is also a great way to be more active, which is linked to a reduced risk of cancer and other diseases.
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