Regardless of how good an area you live in, you just cannot escape environmental pollution. Microscopic pollutants in the air easily get past your body’s defenses and penetrate deep into your respiratory system damaging your lungs, heart, and brain. Urban expansion and progress have ironically given rise to a variety of environmental challenges degrading the quality of our surroundings and impacting public health.
Pollution In India, Alarming.
In a country like India air pollution is a health hazard affecting millions. A 2019 Lancet study found how indoor and outdoor pollution was directly responsible for at least 1.67 million deaths across the country. The death toll accounting for 17·8% of total deaths in the country was the largest pollution related death toll in any country in the world The study led by researchers from the Global Observatory on Pollution and Health at Boston College, the Indian Council of Medical Research, and the Public Health Foundation of India also found how environmental pollution accounted for 36.8 billion in economic loss. According to the study, the highest percentage of deaths were from lung disease like COPD, (39.5%), lower respiratory infections (22.7%), and lung cancer(15.5%). (See image for complete statistics).
Understanding Urban Environmental Pollution
Urban environmental pollution is full of this particulate matter with several cities in India featuring unusually high amounts of the same. Areas with the most concentration of industries, vehicular traffic, and human activities, are particularly vulnerable to pollutants which can be categorized into air, water, and soil pollutants. Air pollutants, such as particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are released from sources like vehicles, factories, and power plants. Water pollutants include industrial waste, sewage, and chemical runoff. Soil pollution is a result of improper waste disposal, agricultural practices, and the accumulation of heavy metals. While all forms of pollution are detrimental to health, it is air pollution with particulate matter being the most dangerous.
Air Particulate Matter
The air around you are a complex mix of particulate matter consisting of droplets of liquid, dry solid fragments, and solid cores with liquid coatings. These vary in size, shape, and chemical composition and might contain inorganic ions, metallic compounds, elemental carbon, organic compounds, and compounds from the earth’s crust. For regulation of air quality, these particles are defined by their diameter with anything less than 10 microns (PM10) being dangerous to health. Fine particulate matter is defined as those 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5) and comprise a part of PM10.
Urban Environmental Pollution in Bengaluru
In 2021, a report by Greenpeace Southeast Asia found how Bengaluru despite faring better than Delhi and Mumbai, still recorded an estimated 12,000 avoidable deaths owing to PM 2.5 air pollution. The Greenpeace analysis features six Indian cities rating Bengaluru better than Delhi and Mumbai, but worse off when compared with Chennai, Hyderabad, and Lucknow. A 2023 study by the Centre for Science and Environment found how Bengaluru is now facing the fastest deterioration of PM2.5 levels, and experienced its most polluted winter of 2022 in the last four years.
Air pollution and climate change
Besides impacting health, air pollution is linked to climate change with the biggest culprit being fossil fuels. India now features in the top 3 of fossil generating countries in the world along with the USA and China. In fact, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that coal-fired electricity must end by 2050 if we are to limit global warming rises to 1.5C. If that does not happen, we are liable to see the planet’s worst climate crisis in 20 years. Interestingly, 80% of India’s electricity generation is from fossil fuels.
The Health Impacts of Urban Environmental Pollution
The exposure to high levels of pollutants has been linked to a myriad of health problems, ranging from respiratory issues to chronic diseases and even shortened lifespan. Some of the most common health problems related to environmental pollution are:
Respiratory Problems: The inhalation of air pollutants like PM and VOCs can cause respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and bronchitis. Fine particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs, leading to inflammation and impaired lung function.
Cardiovascular Diseases: Air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, and hypertension. Pollutants like NOx and SO2 can contribute to the narrowing of blood vessels and the formation of blood clots.
Cancer: Long-term exposure to certain pollutants, notably benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), has been associated with an elevated risk of cancer, particularly lung cancer.
Neurological Effects: Emerging research suggests a link between air pollution and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Fine particulate matter and other pollutants can potentially reach the brain and trigger neuroinflammation.
Reproductive and Developmental Issues: Prenatal exposure to pollutants can result in low birth weights, preterm births, and developmental delays. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in water and soil pollutants can interfere with hormone systems, affecting reproductive health.
Mental Health: Urban environmental pollution doesn’t just impact the physical body; it can also affect mental well-being. Living in polluted environments has been associated with increased stress levels, anxiety, and depression.
Who is at most risk?
While the standard assumption is how children and the elderly are most affected by environmental pollution, today almost every human is at risk. Those with preexisting health conditions are at greater risk of deteriorating health with respiratory issues, topping the list. Children’s developing bodies are more sensitive to pollutants, and exposure during critical developmental stages can have lifelong consequences. Similarly, the elderly often has compromised immune and cardiovascular systems, making them more vulnerable to pollution-related health issues.
How nutrition and supplements can mitigate effects of urban environmental pollution
A good way to neutralize the detrimental impact of air pollution is through healthy nutrition, which has been demonstrated to have a measurable influence on those consequences. Numerous micronutrients have definite anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and avoiding deficiencies combats oxidative stress in general. A healthy diet’s contribution of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids may strengthen the body’s defenses against the effects of air pollution. Given below are some of the anti-oxidants that can detox and protect your body against oxidative stress and cellular damage caused pollution.
Research has found how carotenoids, (Vitamin A), vitamin D, B-Vitamins and vitamin E help protect the lungs against pollution damage which can trigger asthma, COPD, and lung cancer initiation. Vitamins C and E work together to provide antioxidant protection to the body. Moreover, studies have found how vitamin E protects the body against the detrimental effects of O3 (Ozone)
The phytochemical curcumin, from turmeric, has been found to be a potent anti-inflammatory agent, and has been studied in regards to its anti-tumor, antifungal and antioxidant properties. In COPD especially, studies with curcumin tested on animal models improved mean pulmonary artery pressure and right ventricular myocardial infarction (RVMI).
Glutathione is a key antioxidant which helps remove toxins from the body by directly binding to oxidative compounds that damage cell membranes, DNA, and energy production. It then neutralizes them so that they are no longer a threat.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) supplementation has been shown to reduce airway responsiveness by 42% in individuals with airway hyper-responsiveness following inhalation of diesel exhaust compared with filtered air. NAC is a potent antioxidant and a precursor to glutathione by bonding with glutamine and glycine to form glutathione. Studies have found NAC supplementation combined with a 20 minute daily walk improved quality of life in stable COPD patients.
Melatonin is an endogenous hormone synthesized in the pineal gland from tryptophan, it is called the sleep hormone because it regulates your sleep cycles. Some research has found how melatonin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, reduced oxidative stress and relieved dyspnea (difficulty breathing) in COPD patients.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Research shows that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 PUFA) may reduce the negative cardiovascular effects of exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
Urban environmental pollution is a growing health threat and the best way you can protect yourself from its harmful effects is to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A good diet packed with nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D and omega-3 PUFA have protective effects against the damage induced by PM. Intake of essential micronutrients is critical to prevent the onset of chronic disease particularly cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. Consuming antioxidants an anti-inflammatory supplements will also reduce the oxidative stress of environmental pollution.
While antioxidants are usually taken orally, evidence has now found how inhaled antioxidants can do much to reduce the adverse effects of air pollution. Infusion therapy is another way to ensure the nutrients are delivered directly into the blood stream.
IV infusions like a Myers cocktail or NAC and Glutathione infusions are now easily available through good IV wellness clinics in Bengaluru such as Ensocure Integrated Medicine whose infusion therapy is designed to produce the best results.