Pollution

Our planet is changing in ways that are unprecedented in history. In the face of impending climate catastrophe, how the health of our planet affects the health of us as humans is becoming starkly apparent. Increasing air pollution levels and microplastics are just two examples of the threat to our health and the planet.



Air Pollution

Air pollution is a major cause of death and disease. The health effects range from increased hospital admissions, to increased risk of premature death, mainly from heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections in children.1 Shockingly, air pollution is currently estimated to cause 36,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.2

Many people don’t realise that much of our exposure to air pollutants, which contaminate both the food and water supply,3 is in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Air pollutants are quickly cleared from the lungs, before being swallowed,4 so that a large proportion of pollutants that are inhaled are ingested having potential consequences for gut health. Emerging research suggests an association between particulate matter (PM) air-pollution and GI diseases including appendicitis,5 colorectal cancer,6 and increased hospitalisation of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).7 Studies demonstrate that exposure to PM increases gut permeability (leaky gut) and the production of free-radicals, increases the release of pro-inflammatory compounds, and causes colon cell death.8 A recent study also showed that exposure to PM alters gut bacteria composition along the GI tract, for example, reducing beneficial Lactobacillus species.9 A significant reduction in Firmicute bacteria was also observed, which is in the same trend reported in patients with inflammatory diseases, such as IBD.9  These microbial changes could potentially explain some of the negative health effects of high levels of air pollution.

Friends of the Earth have shared some great tips to help protect you from air pollution:


LEAVE THE CAR AT HOME

By reducing the amount you drive you are helping reduce air pollution for everyone. 69% of all car journeys made in the UK are short (5 miles or under). Think carefully about whether you could walk, cycle or use public transport instead before setting off on each journey.

AVOID BUSY MAIN ROADS

When walking or cycling. Walkit helps you choose low-pollution walking routes. Similarly, on London’s cycle route planner or on your local council website you can opt for a “moderate route” which avoids busy main roads when there's an alternative.

DISTANCE YOURSELF

When avoiding major roads isn’t possible, walk as far away from the kerb as you can. Even a few meters can make a difference to your level of pollution exposure. Similarly, when taking public transport, choose a seat as far away from the door as possible. 

BE CAR SAVVY

When driving in heavy traffic, use the recycled-air setting on your fan so your car doesn’t suck in harmful fumes. Re-fill your car at colder times of day, to avoid fuel evaporation, and turn your car off when stationary in traffic or waiting to pick someone up.


EXERCISE IN GREEN SPACE

Joggers inhale more pollution that those walking the same distance, so avoid exercising near busy main roads. Instead try and exercise in green leafy spaces like parks where possible. The best time of day to exercise outdoors is generally first thing in the morning, before the day’s traffic effects air quality.

CHECK POLLUTION LEVELS

Stay up to date with current air pollution levels in your area, so you can make informed decisions and take steps to reduce exposure. You can check air pollution levels across the UK here: UK Air or if you live in London or the South East, sign up for text message, email or voicemail alerts about upcoming pollution from Airtext.

VENTILATE YOUR HOME

Indoor pollution can be just as harmful as outdoor. Ditch air-fresheners, opt for natural cleaning products, open windows that face away from roads when outdoor air pollution levels are low and fill your home with pollution busting plants. Peace lilies, English ivy, cornstalk dracaena and broadleaf lady palm can help filter the air.

MAKE AN IMPACT

And last but not least, use your voice. You could write to your local MP and ask them to petition the Government to take tougher action on air pollution. Or perhaps join a local community and take part in fundraising events and campaigns. Friends of the Earth have a useful Take Part section on their website where you can find ways of getting involved.



Microplastics

We have all heard for many years the harmful effects of plastic polluting our oceans and killing marine life. Now a study commissioned by WWF and carried out by the University of Newcastle, Australia, has highlighted that people too could be ingesting on average 5g of plastic each week, which is the equivalent weight of a credit card!10 The study suggests people are consuming about 2,000 tiny pieces of microplastic every week, dependent on consumption habits and where they live.10


Microplastics, are tiny pieces of plastic measuring less than 5mm, some manufactured this way, but the majority released into the environment when larger pieces of discarded plastic breakdown.3 Research is now demonstrating that these microplastics can spread through the food chain, from the soil, water, packaging and synthetic materials.The long-term effects of plastic ingestion on the human body and accumulation the gut in particular are not yet well documented but research in animals has raised significant concerns. Studies have shown intestinal accumulation of microplastics and their subsequent toxins in marine animals to induce inflammation,11 oxidative stress,11 mucosal damage,12 increased permeability (leaky gut),12 metabolism disruption,12 impaired breeding and immune function,13 and in some early death.13 Microplastics have been show to alter the diversity and composition of the intestinal microflora in a number of species including crustaceans,14 fish12 and mice.15,16 This has concerning implications for the long-term health of the gut if the same were to be the case in humans.


Making Positive Changes

'We don't need a handful of people helping the planet perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly. And the same goes for sustainable living - we don't need a handful of people living off grid, growing their own lentils, and weaving their own garments from nettles, we need millions of us switching to renewable energy, remembering our reusable water bottles, eating less meat and buying a bit (a lot) less of the unnecessary.'

 

Here at Bio-Kult HQ in the UK we're always looking to make a positive impact on our planet and do our bit, here are a few ways that we do this:

  • Our site in Somerset runs entirely on 100% renewable energy.
  • We are committed to 0% waste to landfill, we acheive this by recycling and sending our non-recyclable waste to a Refuge site to generate green energy.
  • We're regularly reviewing and assessing our processes and procedures to ensure, where possible, we reduce the environmental impacts of our operations.

 

Individuals within the company have also implemented some personal changes such as:

  • Cycling to and from work.
  • Exchanging clothing at 'Swap Shops'.
  • Growing fruit and veg at home in a bid to reduce plastic packaging from supermarkets.
  • Shopping in local independent food stores which promote re-fill options.
  • Utilising re-usable items such as zero waste eye make-up remover pads and beeswax wraps.
  • Investing in reusable lunch items such as bamboo or glass food containers and stainless steel water bottles. 
  • Supporting local charities which encourage environmentally friendly living.

 

 


References

1. WHO | Ambient air pollution: Health impacts. WHO 2018. https://www.who.int/airpollution/ambient/health-impacts/en/ (accessed Aug 14, 2019).

2. Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. Associations of long-term average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide with mortality - A report by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. 2018.

3. Beamish LA, Osornio-Vargas AR, Wine E. Air pollution: An environmental factor contributing to intestinal disease. J Crohn’s Colitis 2011; 5: 279–86.

4. Möller W, Häußinger K, Winkler-Heil R, et al. Mucociliary and long-term particle clearance in the airways of healthy nonsmoker subjects. J Appl Physiol 2004; 97: 2200–6.

5. Kaplan GG, Dixon E, Panaccione R, et al. Effect of ambient air pollution on the incidence of appendicitis. CMAJ 2009; 181: 591–7.

6. López-Abente G, García-Pérez J, Fernández-Navarro P, Boldo E, Ramis R. Colorectal cancer mortality and industrial pollution in Spain. BMC Public Health 2012; 12: 589.

7. Ananthakrishnan AN, McGinley EL, Binion DG, Saeian K. Ambient air pollution correlates with hospitalizations for inflammatory bowel disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2011; 17: 1138–45.

8. Mutlu EA, Engen PA, Soberanes S, et al. Particulate matter air pollution causes oxidant-mediated increase in gut permeability in mice. Part Fibre Toxicol 2011; 8: 19.

9. Mutlu EA, Comba IY, Cho T, et al. Inhalational exposure to particulate matter air pollution alters the composition of the gut microbiome. Environ Pollut 2018; 240: 817–30.

10. Plastic N. assessing plastic ingestion from nature to people (AN ANALYSIS for WWF). 2019. www.newcastle.edu.au/.

11. Qiao R, Sheng C, Lu Y, Zhang Y, Ren H, Lemos B. Microplastics induce intestinal inflammation, oxidative stress, and disorders of metabolome and microbiome in zebrafish. Sci Total Environ 2019; 662: 246–53.

12. Qiao R, Deng Y, Zhang S, et al. Accumulation of different shapes of microplastics initiates intestinal injury and gut microbiota dysbiosis in the gut of zebrafish. Chemosphere 2019; 236: 124334.

13. Kühn S, Bravo Rebolledo EL, van Franeker JA. Deleterious Effects of Litter on Marine Life. In: Marine Anthropogenic Litter. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2015: 75–116.

14. Liu Z, Yu P, Cai M, et al. Effects of microplastics on the innate immunity and intestinal microflora of juvenile Eriocheir sinensis. Sci Total Environ 2019; 685: 836–46.

15. Lu L, Wan Z, Luo T, Fu Z, Jin Y. Polystyrene microplastics induce gut microbiota dysbiosis and hepatic lipid metabolism disorder in mice. Sci Total Environ 2018; 631632: 449–58.

16. Jin Y, Lu L, Tu W, Luo T, Fu Z. Impacts of polystyrene microplastic on the gut barrier, microbiota and metabolism of mice. Sci Total Environ 2019; 649: 308–17.