We all know that being constantly exposed to pollution can have detrimental effects on your health. Air pollution has previously been linked to heart and lung disease, in part because it triggers inflammation in your body. And more recently, researchers began to explore the role of air pollution in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Adding inches around your waist
While the research into the role of air pollution on gastrointestinal diseases is still in its early stages, a link has already been established. One study has shown that short-term exposure to air pollution may trigger abdominal pain in young adults.
Other research has found that younger adults are more likely to be diagnosed with Crohn’s disease if they lived in regions with higher concentrations of the air pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, while young ulcerative colitis patients were more likely to live in regions with higher sulphur dioxide pollution in the air.
Now the question is: while the obesity crisis is fast becoming a global epidemic and the rising numbers of childhood obesity is getting more frightening, could the fact that our cities are so heavily polluted in part be to blame?
It’s a possibility, especially when you look at the findings of a newly published study from Beijing.
Professor Jungfeng Zhang, at Duke University, and his team of researchers found that rats exposed to smog in Beijing put on significantly more weight than those exposed to clean air.
The first part of the study, titled Exposure to Air Pollution Increases the Risk of Obesity, was conducted over only 19 days. It was found that the livers and lungs of rats exposed to the smog-polluted air had 50 per cent higher LDL (bad) cholesterol, 46 per cent higher triglycerides, and a staggering 97 per cent higher total cholesterol.
According to the research, these conditions directly contribute to metabolic dysfunction (leading to metabolic syndrome and diabetes), which is a precursor to obesity.
And that’s after only 19 days. Researchers found that negative effects increased drastically at eight weeks, when rats exposed to polluted air were as much as 18 per cent heavier than those in a clean environment.
The scary thing is that Beijing is nowhere near the top of the list of smoggy global cities. India actually has 13 entries on the list of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world. And in Europe, London is one of the most polluted cities.
In fact, London, Birmingham, and Leeds are among the UK cities that have been in breach of safety limits, set by the European Union (EU), on nitrogen dioxide for the past five years.
As a result a study, commissioned by the Greater London Authority and Transport for London, attempted to quantify how many people are being harmed by nitrogen dioxide. The study (the first of its kind by any city in the world) found that nearly 9,500 Londoners die prematurely each year as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution.
That’s a staggering amount of deaths that can be prevented if local authorities and our government take an urgent tough stance in tackling air pollution… and who knows, apart from saving lives it might also curb the UKs obesity epidemic.
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PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47669
Am J Gastroenterol. 2010 Nov;105(11):2412-9
Understanding the Health Impacts of Air Pollution in London, King’s College London, published online, scribd.com
Nearly 9,500 people die each year in London because of air pollution ? study, published online 15.07.15, theguardian.com