Air pollution, digestive tract disorders and the connection between them

Over the months I have written often about the link between polluted air and health – and ways in which the former impacts the latter.

In fact, in “Polluted air: The ‘heart’ of the problem,” I offered, “Across the globe … countless numbers are exposed to high concentrations or dangerous levels of air pollution. They number in the billions, according to Zhang. And the worst air pollution most affects cities with populations in excess of 10 million.” Zhang here is Kai Zhang, author of the Oct. 11, 2012 Environmental Health News article: “Beijing Olympics: Healthy adults benefit from lower air pollution, too,” a synopsis of “Association between changes in air pollution levels during the Beijing Olympics and biomarkers of inflammation and thrombosis in healthy young adults,” by David Q. Rich, ScD., et al., and published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association).

The “Polluted air” article covered polluted air and how it can affect human heart health. In fact, not only can and does air pollution like fine particulates affect cardiovascular and respiratory function, but it is also thought that polluted air can have a damaging effect on the brain, for instance. Since it is known such particles enter the bloodstream, it makes sense.

So, it is along these lines that I want to continue discussion, only this time conversation is focused on the relationship between air pollution and possible digestive tract disorders, what has, up until just recently, been uncharted territory.

In another Environmental Health News article, this time: “Air pollution and the gut: Are fine particles linked to bowel disease?EHN Editor and Staff Writer Lindsey Konkel wrote: “A small but growing number of studies now suggest that air pollutants may play a role in diseases of the gut.”

“‘Fine pollution particles are cleared from the respiratory tract by mucous that makes its way to the gut,’ said Karen Madsen, a gastroenterological scientist from the University of Alberta in Edmonton,” wrote Konkel in citing Madsen.

But what role are these pollutants playing?

Referred to at the very beginning of the Konkel piece was Mark Rievaj who has Crohn’s disease. But what I could not discern from my reading of what was written was if there was a direct connection between this inflammatory bowel disease and air pollution itself, and more specifically, fine particulates. What was revealed in the article, however, was that what caused Rievaj’s condition was not definitively known nor might it ever be.

What Konkel did point out was there may be some disruption of the immune system related to the inhalation of fine particle pollution. In addition, there exists the possibility that inhaled fine particle pollution may “trigger inflammation in the gut by making it more permeable and altering its normal bacteria.”

As a whole, I found the information in the Konkel article to be both eye-opening and thought-provoking. Moreover, information of this sort I believe to be very important if not interesting.

Environmental Health News is an Environmental Health Sciences publication.

3 thoughts on “Air pollution, digestive tract disorders and the connection between them

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  2. Hello,

    I just wanted to add that I have a highly sensitive system. I have had gut issues ever since living in Huntington Beach, CA for the previous 3 years. I have never smoked, I am a vegetarian and have been. I have had weekly meals of pizza and a bit of dessert with those meals, however, other than this it has been really clean eating. Olympic style sprint workouts 5-6 days a week. On a bad week it was 2-3 days. I have never done any drugs and my gut has always been great before this living situation.

    Last August, in the middle of this issue, I visited Sedona, AZ with family. Not only did I ease up on my diet for 4 days on the trip my nose immediately became clear. I could breathe without any ‘normal’ stuffy nose I would usually always have in southern California. Within a few hours my gut was without issue as if it had never happened. I was shocked because I had tried everything and no remedy worked. I returned home after and the issue returned. I, again, was shocked.

    I, to this day, still have the issue and it is so uncomfortable. I have tried many things and it plagues me. And after reading your article I really feel that air quality is as important as the food we eat and the water we drink. After all, it is one of the four essential elements needed for survival. Why would we underestimate it!?

    I just thought I’d share. I really hope to rid myself of this issue ASAP. However it’s been two years and I’m still bothered by it.

    • For me, post-nasal drip is an issue. This is oftentimes accompanied by mucous and throat-clearing. It always seems more pronounced when the air here in California’s central San Joaquin Valley is polluted. During days when air is particularly bad, I try as much as is practical to stay indoors. This seems to help.

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