The interplay between air pollution, diet and health

Air pollution health and diet

Air pollution is a major concern worldwide because there is sufficient evidence to infer causality of adverse health outcomes with high exposure. Children, elderly, pregnant women and subjects with chronic diseases can be more susceptible to the adverse health effects of air pollution.  Genetic background also plays a role in determining the harmful effects of air pollutants.

World Health Organization reports that there is sufficient evidence that long-term exposure to air pollution causes chronically reduced lung growth rates and lower lung function levels in childhood with reduced the maximal functional capacity that could lead to enhanced susceptibility to ageing and infection as well to tobacco smoke and occupational exposures during adulthood. High levels of air pollution are associated with enhance allergic sensitization (in those children genetically at risk) that leads to paediatric allergic diseases, including asthma and also causes asthma aggravation and risk for respiratory infections and bronchitis. Respiratory deaths in the post-neonatal period and low birth weight also are associated with highly polluted areas.

Days with high pollution are related to higher emergency room visits and hospital admissions due to respiratory or cardiovascular complains, and long term-exposure leads to a significant reduction in life expectancy of the average population by a year or more. Similar to children, adults with underlying chronic lung disease, particularly asthma, are likely to be result in more severe disease i.e. more symptoms and need for medication use.

Pollutants induce adverse effects by inducing oxidative stress and by affecting the balance between antioxidant pathways and airway inflammation. There is a sufficient burden of studies suggesting that consumption of anti-oxidant nutrients (e.g. β-Carotene, Vitamin E and C) protects (even the genetically susceptible) people against the adverse respiratory effects of air pollution. Already in 1997, Cook et al. have reported a positive association between lung function and the frequency of fresh fruit consumption and a weak association with green vegetable and salad consumption, concluding that micronutrient antioxidants derived from these foods are important. More recently, Gilliland et al. (2003) have reported that low intakes of antioxidant vitamins are associated with deficits in pulmonary function in both boys and girls. Gilliland et al. have suggested that low antioxidant intake during childhood may contribute to the risk of developing obstructive lung disease and its related morbidity and mortality in adulthood.

The current evidence point to the important role of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables since this may influence our sensitivity to air pollution and generally can reduce the risk and the complications of chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Thus remember to make the environment you live in more green and eat “greener”!


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