Doctor's Casebook: How pollution can have a negative affect on your health

I was interested to see that pollution levels have so far fallen significantly during the pandemic.

Saturday, 27th March 2021, 4:45 pm
Pollution levels have so far fallen significantly during the pandemic. Photo: Getty Images

In the UK, the greenhouse gases fell by 11 per cent in 2020, which is the biggest annual fall in 30 years.

We know that pollution is not good for the planet, the atmosphere, the earth, the seas, and all the life forms on the planet.

How exactly it impacts on human health is not so well known. But now, work at Columbia University has postulated eight different biological ways that pollution can affect our health.

Firstly, by producing oxidative stress and inflammation. Chemicals can deplete our antioxidant defences, which can cause inflammation, cell death, and organ damage.

Secondly, the genome can be affected. This can result in mutations at cellular level, so that an accumulation of DNA errors can trigger various chronic diseases.

Lifestyle can make us more susceptible to illness — if we smoke or take drugs or drink too much alcohol, or eat too much processed food.

These introduce pollutants to the body and cause what we refer to as epigenetic alterations.

These can affect the way that DNA in cells is wrapped around proteins called histones inside our cells. That can affect how particular genes are expressed, for good or ill.

Pollutants can affect the way out cellular mitochondria work. A breakdown in the way they function can cause fatigue and again can contribute to chronic disease.

Nano-plastics can exert a hormonal effect on us. These in our environment, food, and consumer products disrupt the regulation of hormones and contribute to metabolic and endocrine disease.

The signals within cells and from cells to cells in tissues and organs can be disrupted by very subtle but by very profound means.

A really important effect is that on microbiome. This is the name given to the trillions of microorganisms inside the gut. An imbalance in this can make us susceptible to allergies and infections.

Finally, and fascinatingly, the researchers postulate that the nervous system function can become impaired by microscopic particles in air pollution, which can reach the brain through the olfactory nerve, the nerve that supplies the nose and the sense of smell.

The result can be to interfere with mental cognition, or how we think.