I think most of us living in the
today have some sort of idea that pollution is harming us. However, I think we tend
to have a limited view of the possible health effects. We may think of
pollutants causing cancer and respiratory distress, but fail to realize the
systemic results of exposures and to consider environmental causes for a wide
variety of health challenges. U.S.
A recent article from Environmental Health News makes the point. The author quotes a scientist from the
who states, “We tend to think about air
pollution in terms of lung health, but the GI tract is also being bathed in it
continuously. Fine pollution particles are cleared from the respiratory tract
by mucous that makes its way to the gut.” University of Alberta
Studies are beginning to link air pollutants to inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) and other gastrointestinal problems. The article notes the following:
- A study found that children and young adults with higher exposure to a component of traffic exhaust (nitrogen dioxide) were more than twice as likely to develop Crohn’s disease.
- Another study found that high air pollution was associated with a 40 percent increase in the rate of hospitalizations for bowel disease. The pollution included carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, volatile organic chemicals and fine particulates.
- Fine particulates may make the gut more permeable, alter its normal bacteria, and trigger inflammation. Particulates primarily come from combustion, such as from car exhaust and heating fuel.
- High levels of ozone have been linked to an increased risk of a burst appendix. Every weekly increase of 16 parts per billion of ozone increases the risk of a burst appendix by 11 to 22 percent.
Intestinal effects of various kinds can be caused by a wide variety of toxins. The Environmental Protection Agency lists several possibilities. They note that formaldehyde has been linked to inflammation and toxicity of the intestinal tract. Formaldehyde can be found in pressed wood products, carpet, foam insulation, cosmetics, cleaning products, and many other places. Chemicals known to cause abdominal pain include arsenic (found in water, soil and some wood preservatives) and nitrates and nitrites, which are common components of gasoline, shoe polish, spray paints, rat poison, food preservatives, and fertilizer.
It’s easy to think that what we breathe will affect our lungs and what we eat will affect our gastrointestinal tract, but it’s not quite that simple. However a toxin enters the body, it has the potential to affect the whole system. There’s no getting around it. For optimum health, we need to avoid toxins in every way we possibly can.