The 21st-century world we live in has brought us unbelievable inventions and unmatched convenience. We went from being a paper-backed world to a digital-forward community, in only a few years. Simple but ingenious comforts such as same-day deliveries, 24×7 air conditioning, bullet trains, and others have transformed the way we live.
All modern-day comforts, however, come at a certain price. This price, eventually, is paid by our planet that is clearly struggling to keep up with the pace of our industrialization. Increasing levels of severe air pollution in numerous cities around the globe is a clear marker of things not being okay.
What’s worse is that a direct impact of hazardous air pollution can be seen in the state of our own health and wellness. Researchers have dug deep to uncover how air pollution levels are responsible for triggering autoimmune diseases. If you live in a city that is in the news for its worsening air quality levels, read on to understand how you can lower your risk of developing autoimmune diseases.
Our immune system is the first line of defense against the damaging effects of external agents such as bacteria and viruses. It consists of a complex system of cells, tissues, chemical messengers, and organs that work together to protect your body. When triggered, our immune system releases a host of signaling molecules, proteins, and specialized cells that attack the invading molecules. This response is known as the inflammatory response. It is supposed to timely activate and deactivate to protect our health from infections and such.
Ideally, our bodies have no trouble identifying invading pathogens and our own healthy cells. However, in an autoimmune disorder, our immune system mistakes healthy cells and tissues to be foreign material. The result is that healthy cells begin to get attacked along with the foreign molecules. This leads to a host of issues starting from inflammation and overall health decline.
A complex mix of reasons is behind the origins of autoimmune disease. While some people may be predisposed to develop an autoimmune disorder thanks to their genes, others may be heavily exposed to environmental toxins, chronic stress, or suffer through frequent infections. These are mainly the reasons we develop an autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, etc.
In recent years, the role of ambient air pollution on the occurrence and development of ADs has become clearer. Systemic inflammation, increased oxidative stress and genetic expression modifications are some of the effects of air pollution that may induce an autoimmune disorder.
We all know air pollution is harmful to our lungs and airways, but did you know that it also causes a lot of damage to the other organs of the body. Experts say that air pollution is also linked to reduced cognitive function and increased risk of dementia.
Studies around the world show that air pollution has a deep impact on our immune system. It causes serious toxicological damage, thanks to all the ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and other particulate matter present in the atmospheric air. While short-term exposure to these contaminants causes migraines, nausea, and dizziness, long-term exposure often leads to more serious issues in our nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Air pollution is made up of a mix of gasses and particles including carbon monoxide, nitrates, ozone, by-products of industrial waste, and more. As we live and breathe this air, our bodies respond with hiked oxidative stress and increased inflammation. Our lungs have a large surface area that is exposed to a variety of antigens through the respiratory system. Over time, this may manifest as acute and chronic disorders and cause autoimmune disorders.
People suffering from asthma or other chronic respiratory allergies, are at increased risk to develop an autoimmune disease when exposed to air pollution. The inhalation of pollen, ozone, nitric oxide, or other volatile chemicals from the air causes inflammation and ultimately allows allergens to enter the airways with increased permeability. Add to this, the oxidative effect produced by the pollutants eventually leads to bronchial hyperreactivity. In children, exposure to air pollution has shown an increased risk of developing asthma, allergic rhinitis, and eczema.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that is usually triggered by genetic and environmental factors. It affects the lining of joints, causing inflammation and painful swelling that over time compromises bone health and formation. Studies have shown that initial inflammation and RA-related autoantibodies in the lungs are triggered by active smoking and exposure to air pollution.
Evading air pollution isn’t as easy as simply wearing a mask, but a few mindful measures can greatly reduce your risk levels of triggering autoimmune disorders. Here’s how you can overcome the damaging effect of environmental toxins you are exposed to on a daily basis:
1. Make sure you use an air purifier indoors. Ensure that your air purifier is fit to filter mold, indoor pollutants, and other airborne contaminants. Change your filters often.
2. Keep a check on the Air Quality Index (AQI) of any area before venturing outside and use an N95 mask to safeguard yourself.
3. Reduce your overall toxin load by choosing organic produce over processed foods or inorganic foods. Pesticides used on food crops easily find their way onto our plates and get consumed by us. Processed foods are often high in simple carbs, sugar, and unhealthy fats, triggering an imbalanced metabolism.
4. Look into restoring your gut health. Our gut has a natural and robust mechanism of keeping us healthy, but it goes off track when exposed to an overload of toxins. Ensuring that your digestive system is functioning effectively through regular bowel movements and good gut bacteria can help combat the effects of air pollution on our overall health.
Functional medicine offers a host of integrated therapies that help you combat the downsides of living in places where air quality is poor. Consulting experienced functional medicine doctors at My Pure MD, Houston can get you to recognize the triggers of autoimmune disease and understand how you can keep them at bay.