The last six weeks have seen an intense debate over the possible link between breast cancer and air pollution. FIGO- the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics highlighted the discovery of a link between air pollution and breast cancer following an article published in the Breast Cancer Journal on the results of research conducted by the University of Florida. This was reported by mainstream media as an alarming call to women living in areas with high air pollution.
Do not panic!
But there is no need to panic, it’s very important to be cautious with scientific results. In fact, many organizations like Cancer Research-UK, BreastCancer and others jumped to clarify that finding a link does not mean that air pollution causes breast cancer. Two things can be highly correlated without implying causation.
We know and we’ve talked about how pervasive air pollution is in our bodies, affecting our lungs, circulation, diabetes, skin and many more. The link between air pollution and lung cancer is very well researched, many research teams have worked on this subject for decades and have found how it happens and why. All the other links of air pollution to diseases are still in the very beginning of compiling research results and while it is one thing to link air pollution with skin problems, it is another step entirely to link it with a life-threatening disease like breast cancer.
Be cautious and understand the risks
We should not panic, but we should know the extent of current research on this matter. The latest research was conducted by the University of Florida, US, and looked at the link between breast density and air pollution. They found that women living in areas with high pollution had denser breast tissue. Women with dense breast tissue are up to six times more likely to develop some form of breast cancer.
In 2010, another study by the Research Institute of the MUHC, McGill University and Université de Montreal also showed a link. This study mapped air pollution against breast cancer patients and found that women living near areas with higher levels of pollution were twice as likely to develop breast cancer than the rest. However, Dr Goldberg, a researcher at The RI MUHC said:
“For example, we don’t know how much the women in the study were exposed to pollution while at home or at work, because that would depend on their daily patterns of activity, how much time they spend outdoors and so on”
In the case of this study, what is interesting is that the motivation to study the link between air pollution and breast cancer was to try to understand why cancer rates were going up in general / in these particular high pollution areas. The results showed that it could be air pollution but it may well be some other factor that the study could not control. In fact, the researchers called for more research on this subject and more research on the biological explanation behind this possible link.
Before more scientific evidence is gathered, we should make it a habit to know the quality of the air we breathe and take actions to improve the quality of the air we are exposed to, both indoors and outdoors!
We know for sure that city dwellers are highly affected by worsening air quality across the world and the majority of deaths caused by air pollution occur in cities. In the past ten years, cities have been working together as part of the group C40Cities to find solutions to protect their citizens. The Mayors of the cities that are part of this group have come up with some innovative proposals to push an Air’Volution that stems pollution in the cities. The end of March saw the announcement of bold plans to address locally created air pollution.
The C40Cities, launched in 2005, is a group created and led by cities that connects 90+ cities across 50+countries, representing 650+ million people and one quarter of the global economy. The group recognizes that cities generate most of the world’s carbon emissions and house almost 60% of the global population, hence the importance of their stance in transforming the systems that create the most carbon emissions: transport, building and waste.
What is the Air’volution?
It’s the collection of actions taken by cities to address air pollution and control vehicle emissions. Remember what started as a VW (Volkswagen) scandal? There is now a list of car manufacturers that have been found to manipulate the tests of car emissions. Not to mention that we now know the real polluting nature of diesel cars, even the EURO 6 diesel engines releases more fine particulate matter than heavy duty trucks. Such as:
- Emissions on the road have been proven to be 15 times greater than emissions in laboratory conditions. Paris and London are working on creating a scheme to score new cars based on their real-world emissions and air quality impact, rather than a laboratory measure. All data is expected to be released by end 2017 so that consumers will be able to know the score for each car model. Seoul, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Moscow, Oslo and Tokyo and other cities have committed to work in the development of a global scoring system.
“For too long, some vehicle manufacturers have been able to hide behind inconsistent regulation and consumer uncertainty about the damage their cars are causing,” said Mayor of Paris and C40 Chair, Anne Hidalgo. “This announcement is a wake-up call to car companies that they need to act now. Citizens of Paris and cities around the world demand clean air to breathe and this new scoring scheme will be key to helping achieve that. I am pleased that Paris, the city of the Climate Agreement, is working with London and Seoul to support this project.”
“This scheme is also a fantastic example of how big cities around the world can pool their expertise and their influence to encourage big industry to clean up its act. The toxicity of the air in London and many other big cities is an outrage, and schemes of the type we are introducing in London and Paris have the potential to make a massive difference to the quality of the air we all breathe.”
Other measures include:
- Cities implementing low-emission zones: London has proposed to introduce an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London, where cars will have to meet the minimum emission requirements or pay a daily fine (£10). In Paris, vehicles are restricted access for the most polluting vehicles, through the use of Crit’Air stickers. And Seoul has recently designated a Green Transport Promotion Zone that restricts old diesel vehicles and construction equipment, the objective is to cut carbon emissions from vehicles by 40% and vehicle demand by 30%.
A number of Asian cities are part of the C40Cities: Auckland, Bangaluru, Bangkok, Beijing, Chengdu, Chennai, Delhi, Dalian, Dhaka, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Jaipur, Jakarta, Kolkata, Mumbi, Nanjing, Singapore, Shenzen, Shanghai, Seoul, Sydney, Yokohama, Chennai, Mumbai, Tokyo and Wuhan. Most of these cities need to learn from experiences from other cities in reducing vehicles emissions.
We need to better understand air pollution patterns in our cities to make the most of these policies. Deployment of air quality monitors across the cities is the first step!
In a previous blog-post we talked about protecting our health from within and stressed the need to consume vitamin C, E, Beta-carotene and Omega3 which boosts our body’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity. Research published in the Pharmaceutical Journal is now including Vitamin B in the realm of our must-have nutrients to fight health consequences from air pollution.
Vitamin B essentials
Our bodies need Vitamin B for producing energy through food, growth and cell division, as well as for the proper functioning of the nervous system, arteries, heart and brain. These vitamins can be found in foods such as meats, whole grains, vegetables and nuts – and especially in chickpeas, beef liver, yellowfin tuna, salmon, chicken breast, potatoes and bananas. We need to maintain a good intake of these foods at the same time as facilitating its absorption by decreasing alcohol, coffee and tea consumption. The vitamin B group includes a range of vitamins but the most essential are B12, B6 and Folic acid
Vitamin B and air pollution
Studies had first found that persons with low vitamin B6 and B12 were particularly susceptible to the adverse health effects of air pollution. Now, scientists from the Mailman School of Public Health from Columbia University looked at the possible effect of vitamin B in minimising DNA damage. The study sample size is very small but it is being conducted on people and compares DNA changes in people exposed to PM2.5 against those who were not exposed. And then compares the protective effect of Vitamin B6, B12 and Folic acid (B9).
Dr Jia Zhong from Harvard School of Public Health led the study and found that although the results from such a small sample cannot be conclusive, they do show DNA damage from exposure to PM2.5 and a protective effect from Vitamin B even when the individual is exposed to PM2.5. The sample was small and the vitamin dose used was very high, but the relevance of this finding is that more research can be done to further to understand the correct dosage and if this effect is also experienced among people who are under chronic exposure to air pollution.
As a preventive measure we can make sure we have good vitamin B intake to help our bodies protect us from air pollution
Sources: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/vitamin-b6/background/hrb-20058788http://www.livescience.com/51920-vitamin-b6.htmlZhong J, Karlsson O, Wang G et al. B vitamins attenuate the epigenetic effects of ambient fine particles in a pilot human intervention trial. Proc Natl Acad Sci; published ahead of print March 13, 2017; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1618545114http://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/news-and-analysis/news/vitamin-b-may-help-reduce-impact-of-air-pollution-on-health/20202468.article
In our day-to-day life we have all noticed that the morning after heavy rain it’s usually a clear and fresh morning with low levels of airborne pollution. Wind conditions usually blow pollution out of the cities and those peaks of harmful air are mostly in days with no air flow or precipitation. Empirically we have experienced the fact that weather patterns have an effect on dissipating air pollution or not.
This past week, researchers from the Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology –Atlanta, published a paper in Science Advances on the effects of arctic meltdown on air pollution in China. The research clearly shows the challenges faced by China to address its air quality problems. Until now, most critics have focused on the need for China to control its emissions and to strike a healthier balance between development and environment degradation. Authorities in China have an increasing interest in controlling air quality, have implemented emission caps and most importantly are now the country with the largest production of clean energy. However, air quality is far from improved and pollution has not decreased as was hoped. The relevance of this research is that it affirms, following weather modelling analysis, that in the Eastern Plains of China, emissions’ control is important but is not enough to improve air quality. In fact, major global climate change problems are playing a significant role in promoting the accumulation of air pollution in this region.
“The ventilation is getting worse,” said study author Yuhang Wang, an atmospheric scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta to The Guardian “We think climate change, as it is driving rapid warming of the Arctic, is having a large effect on pollution in China.” “The very rapid change in polar warming is really having a large impact on China, emissions in China have been decreasing over the last four years, but the severe winter haze is not getting better. Mostly that’s because of a very rapid change in the high polar regions where sea ice is melting and snowfall is increasing,” he said. “This keeps cold air from getting into the eastern parts of China, where it would flush out air pollution.”
This is a scientific example of how weather conditions affect the build-up of air pollution in a certain place. This helps us further connect the dots between the bad air quality that harms our health and global problems such as green-house gas emissions, climate change and melting of the Arctic sea ice.Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity cause between half to two-thirds of the fall in summer ice. Scientists predict that if the Arctic sea ice melting continues along with a correspondent increase in Eurasian snowfall, extremely poor ventilation conditions will occur and air quality control will prove increasingly challenging to implement unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced not only in China but globally. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported in February 2017 that: “Antarctic sea ice is nearing its annual minimum extent and continues to track at record low levels for this time of year. On February 13, Antarctic sea ice extent dropped to 2.29 million square kilometers (884,000 square miles), setting a record lowest extent in the satellite era.”
Air pollution affects us ALL and is one more environmental problem that is made worse by climate change!
Sources https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/15/airpocalypse-smog-events-linked-to-global-warming-research-reveals http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/3/e1602751 http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/03/why-china-s-smog-so-bad-researchers-point-far-away-melting-arctic http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/
It may seem a far cry, but scientists have been studying the effects of particulate matter (PM) in our intestines, gut microbiota (previously referred to as gut flora) and its relation to the sharp increase of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). There is not an overwhelming amount of research, but certainly for more than a decade institutes in several countries have researched the possible link between exposure to air pollutants and various parts of our digestive system.
These studies show why being careful about what we eat and drink can take us a long way in protecting our gut microbiota from air pollution. In fact, hereditary genes may explain only a fraction of the IBD and scientists have in the past two decades seen that environmental factors are important contributors to these diseases.
But how does PM reach our bowel/intestines?
Well, researchers have observed that there are two primary ways: first the lungs clear part of air pollutants through a process called ‘mucocialiary clearance’ towards the intestines; and second we ingest it through our water and food.
And what is the effect of PM in our bowel?
Scientists in this field suggest that air pollutants cause systemic inflammation and change of the intestinal microbiota. Research has shown correlation between air pollution and IBD but scientists call for caution in the interpretation of these results due to methodological weaknesses and suggest more research should be done. However,
“If this connection is found to be true, this could have important implications for public health since intestinal diseases are relatively common and cause significant morbidity and mortality in addition to their economic impacts. Understanding how pollution contributes to intestinal disease will identify potential interventions or help advocate for patients by reducing exposures to dangerous materials.” say Leigh A. Beamish, Alvaro R. Osornio-Vargas and Eytan Wine in their 2011 publication in the Journal of Crohns and Colitis.
More recently (2015), scientists from Canada published an article on how microbiota can be modified by air pollution and last moth a group of researchers also published an article on PM and its effect on gut microbiota and the link to cholesterol. Overall, there is increasing knowledge of the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota as a protection against diabetes, obesity, metabolic disorders and IBD. Scientists have shown that air pollution affects both the composition and the function of microbiota. They concluded:
“Together, our study in IL-10−/− mice, in conjunction with previous experimental and epidemiological observations, strongly suggests that ingested particulate matter could trigger and accelerate the development of gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases” Salim, Kaplan and Madsen from the University of Alberta and Calgary.
As individuals, let’s start now to protect ourselves. We can eat organic, we can have a specific vegetable and fruit cleansing routine, we can filter our water. Let’s start minimizing our ingested air pollution to take care of our gut microbiota!
Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683297 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24637593 http://www.nature.com/articles/srep42906
The University of Columbia, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and the Health Effects Institute (HEI) recently published a special report on global exposure to air pollution and its effect on disease. The IHME is an independent health research center from the University of Washington and the HEI is a non-profit independent research organization that has, since 1980, been promoting / publishing impartial science on the effects of air pollution.
The objective of this report is to build on the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD), which is the most comprehensive study worldwide that describes causes of mortality, major diseases, injuries and other factors that are a risk to health in a national, regional and global perspective. The latest publication by the GBD in 2015 reported that exposure to PM2.5 is the 5th biggest contributor to mortality and disease globally and accounts for 4.2 million deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections. Their recommendation is to continue tracking and analyzing pollution and PM2.5 in order to better understand how to reduce this burden on the health system and society as a whole.
The State of Global Air report highlights several important messages that we summarize here with some illustrative charts:
- A number of institutions are researching air pollution and its effects on health. WHO estimated that, in 2012, 3 million people died from PM2.5 exposure, GBD says 4.2 million.While there may be discrepancies in the number based on methods of estimation and source of data, all research parties agree that the impact of PM2.5 is substantial and growing in importance.
- The most affected regions are Asia and Africa, as seen in the chart here.
- Since 2010, the number of deaths and disease due to PM 2.5 has been increasing rapidly. Interestingly in China, the change escalated between 1990 and 2010 and has now plateaued.
- Bangladesh and India are experiencing the largest increase since 2010, in the order of 50%-60% increase in the 5 years to 2015.
- Disparities among countries have also grown: less-polluted areas are now cleaner, whereas PM concentrations have increased in the most polluted areas. Some of these trends are shown in the chart here.
- In 2015, long term exposure to PM2.5 contributed to 4.2 million deaths costing 103 million years of healthy life with 52% of this happening in China and India. The financial and social cost to society is huge.
- Coal-burning by industry, power plants and home heating creates 40% of PM2.5 exposure as shown in the chart here.
This report is issued yearly building on the GBD reports and making available new data. The 2018 report expects to share successful stories from cities and countries across the world on how they have improved air quality and public health.
In the interim, the most important is to continue collecting data on air quality and making changes in your day-to-day lives to improve the air you breathe.
Air quality data helps us to understand trends and visualize potential solutions. blue aims to help users do just this and we are looking forward to launching our product in the market soon.
If you want to explore the data more in detail, change the comparative countries or just learn more, go to: https://www.stateofglobalair.org/report
Source of information and graphics: State of Global Air 2017. HEI, 2017. www.stateofglobalair.org. Data source: Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. IHME, 2016. (Accessed 02/27/2017).