More Confirmation About the Damaging Health Effects of Air Pollution…And What to Do About It

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Study results released earlier this year in The Lancet Planetary Health demonstrated that nearly every place on Earth has pollution levels considered unsafe by World Health Organization standards, with only 0.001 percent of the world’s population having safe air quality. This is a significant health concern as research clearly indicates that pollution can dramatically increase the risk of lung cancer by more than 60 percent and even higher in those with a family history of lung cancer.

According to the American Lung Association, in the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, taking the lives of more than 350 Americans every day. Astonishingly, they also report that someone is diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States every two and a half minutes.

In vivo research published this year in Nature helps shed light on how air pollution helps increase the risk of lung cancer. The researchers focused on EGFR-driven lung cancer because it is more common in never-smokers or light smokers. They found that the air pollutants cause an influx of macrophages and the release of interleukin-1β in the lungs, which then fuels lung tumorigenesis.

In addition to lung cancer, The American Association for Cancer Research reports that air pollution exposure is also associated with an increased risk of breast, liver, and pancreatic cancer. A 2022 review concluded that air pollution exposure increased cancer incidence and mortality and may also be associated with poorer cancer survival.

Additional research from this year found that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in air pollution is associated with the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Air pollution has also been shown to worsen heart failure and osteoporosis outcomes.

It’s impossible to reduce exposure entirely, but there are ways integrative practitioners can help bolster detoxification and counsel patients on reducing exposure as much as possible.

Reducing Exposure

While outdoor air pollution is an outdoor problem, it can negatively impact inside air. 

"In addition to outdoor air pollution influencing indoor air quality, our built environments outgas many chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents, and other harmful compounds, so that’s why the biggest strategy for indoor air quality is the use of an indoor air filtration system,” said Anne Marie Fine, NMD, FAAEM, a leading expert in environmental medicine and one of the founders of Environmental Medicine Education International. “Because many of these harmful outdoor chemicals can be found in dust in the home, I emphasize with my patients the importance of proper and thorough dusting throughout their home,” she added.

Beyond Air Pollution

Environmental medicine practitioners are well-versed in addressing the myriad of chemicals patients are exposed to. In addition to air pollution, Fine is very concerned about endocrine disruptors, especially Bisphenol A (BPA) and its analogs, BPS, BPF, and BPAF.

“In 2021, the European Food Safety Authority lowered the Tolerable Daily Intake by 20,000-fold to reflect the newer studies demonstrating the significant toxicity of BPA,” she explained. “Nearly all our patients are above this threshold which is a problem because BPA has been found to not only be a hormone disruptor, but exposure can be toxic to the immune and cardiovascular systems and has been found to increase all-cause mortality by 49 percent when comparing the highest tertile of urinary BPA levels to the lowest.”

To reduce BPA exposure, Fine advises her patients to stop drinking out of plastic or canned water containers as much as possible and avoid canned foods, polycarbonate food storage containers, and thermal paper receipts.

Enhancing Detoxification in Clinical Practice

In addition to counseling patients about reducing exposure to air pollution and other toxicants, there are key nutrients that can help support the detoxification pathway, including glutathione. Research shows that glutathione can provide protection against oxidative stress, mercury and other toxic metals, alcohol, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). 

In addition to glutathione, clinical trials demonstrate that many compounds in foods and dietary supplements, such as cruciferous and allium vegetables, resveratrol, and quercetin, have been shown to support phase I and/or phase II detoxification pathways. 

“Chelation therapy is another strategy that is used to support detoxification, especially the removal of heavy metals that can harm health,” explained Fine. “Chelation therapy is often used in combination with diet and lifestyle advice, avoidance strategies, and targeted dietary supplements.”

Environmental Medicine Experts Excel

Environmental medicine practitioners can help patients reduce the damaging effects that toxicants can have on their health. Fine says these healthcare professionals are well-positioned to fill a gap that presently exists in healthcare.

“Environmental medicine doctors are trained to understand the toxicant-illness connection and why this may be a key reason a patient is not getting better,” said Fine. “These specialized healthcare professionals also utilize effective detoxification strategies and maximize their evidence-based knowledge related to toxicant-induced illnesses to achieve optimal outcomes.”