Toxicity, Take Two: It’s in the Air We Breathe

Brenda and I have been talking for years about the toxic soup that we all live in. It’s in our food, in the water, in the air and in our own bodies. It’s impossible to completely avoid toxins, and that’s a problem, especially in light of the scientific evidence that shows environmental toxins are destroying our health.

Many recent studies have looked at air pollution and its many harmful effects. It has been known for some time that exposure to air pollution is associated with health conditions like asthma, cardiovascular disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In fact, polluted air can even create serious ventricular arrhythmias.1 Also, the incidence of heart attacks in rush hour traffic in the United Kingdom are thought to be due to the polluted air. In support of this is a quote from the August 2005 Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) referring to particle laden dirty air, “Ultrafine particles < 0.1 µm (UFPs) dominate particle number concentrations and surface area, and are therefore capable of carrying large concentrations of adsorbed or condensed toxic air pollutants. It is likely that redox-active components in UFPs from fossil fuel combustion reach cardiovascular target sites. High UFP exposures may lead to systemic inflammation through oxidative stress responses to reactive oxygen species and thereby promote the progression of atherosclerosis, and precipitate acute cardiovascular responses ranging from increased blood pressure to myocardial infarction.”2

The studies on this topic keep rolling in. The latest issue of EHP published a study on the link between prenatal exposure to air pollutants and subsequent behavioral problems in children.3 Children with the highest levels of pollution exposure had more attention problems, anxiety and depression at age 5 to 7 than those children with the least exposure. It is also known that exposure to organophosphate pesticides found on foods is linked to ADHD symptoms, by the way. And we wonder why ADHD is on the rise.

Other new studies continue to support just how air pollution affects health. One study in animals found that chronic inhalation of polluted air triggered inflammation that spread throughout the body.4 To quote one of the researchers, “Our main hypothesis is that particulate matter stimulates inflammation in the lung, and products of that inflammation spill over into the body’s circulation, traveling to fat tissue to promote inflammation and causing vascular dysfunction.”

This comes as no surprise to me. Inflammation is involved in most every disease, and certainly plays a role in all chronic diseases. Inflammation can be triggered by a number of factors—toxins, stress, illness, digestive imbalance—and it can travel throughout the body causing disease.

Another recent study, again published in EHP, found that short term exposure to air pollution damaged areas of the brain associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease in mice.4 Guess what the study found? The brains affected by air pollution showed signs of inflammation associated with premature aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, the New England Journal of Medicine showed that reductions in air pollution accounted for as much as 15% of the overall increase in life expectancy in the areas that were studied!6

It’s difficult to know just how to avoid all this pollution, but there are things we can do to reduce toxicity. First, use high efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA filters) throughout your house (or at least your bedroom), and in your car cabin. According to Carla Kalogeridis at the Filter Manufacturers Council, only 40 percent of North American vehicles have cabin air filters despite the ongoing concern of consumers regarding cabin air quality.7 Others say as many as 80% or more now have cabin filters. I couldn’t find a clear answer from the site, but did find where they recommended a portable cabin filter.8 In any case if you have a cabin filter they generally need to be replaced annually or every 15,000 miles. The filters can be easily bought from the dealers or online9 with instructions on how to change them at home.

If you can avoid daily bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, that’s a good start, and if you can’t it would be very wise to change your cabin air filter. If your vehicle doesn’t have one there are portables available.8 Eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins will help your body get many nutrients and fiber it needs. Reduce inflammation with omega-3 oils, and quell gut inflammation with probiotics. And support the body’s seven channels of elimination: colon, liver, lungs, lymph, kidneys, skin and blood with nutrients that promote the healthy function of these channels, plus periodic colon hydrotherapy, and infrared sauna. Lastly, find stress-reducing activities including exercise and meditation to round out a healthy lifestyle. All of the above strategies will help to keep your detoxification pathways open.

  1. M.S. Link and D.W. Dockery, “Air pollution and the triggering of cardiac arrhythmias.” Curr Opin Cardiol. 2010 Jan;25(1):16-22.
  2. R.J. Delfino, et al., “Potential role of ultrafine particles in associations between airborne particle mass and cardiovascular health.” Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Aug;113(8):934-46.
  3. F.P. Perera, et al., “PAH/Aromatic DNA Adducts in Cord Blood and Behavior Scores in New York City Children.” Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Apr 4.
  4. T. Kampfrath, et al., “Chronic Fine Particulate Matter Exposure Induces Systemic Vascular Dysfunction via NADPH Oxidase and TLR4 Pathways.” Circ Res. 2011 Mar 18;108(6):716-26.
  5. T.E. Morgan, et al., “Glutamatergic neurons in rodent models respond to nanoscale particulate urban air pollutants in vivo and in vitro.” Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Apr 4.
  6. C.A. Cope, et al., “Fine-particulate air pollution and life expectancy in the United States.” N Engl J Med. 2009 Jan 22;360(4):376-86.