Blame it on the air you breathe for your compromised gut health

Updated on:11 May 2021, 05:51am IST
The increasingly polluted air we breathe impacts the healthy functioning of our gut. This further leads to other health threats in our bodies.
IANS
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mask
It's not only our lung health that's on the line when it comes to the impact of air pollution. Image Courtesy:Shutterstock

The amount of pollution on the air quality index and the number of gut bacteria aren’t often linked together. Turns out! air pollution takes a heavy toll on gut bacteria, boosting the risk of obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and other chronic illnesses, a new study revealed.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, is the first to link air pollution to changes in the structure and function of the human gut microbiome – the collection of trillions of microorganisms residing within us.

Worldwide, according to research published this month, air pollution kills 8.8 million people annually – more than smoking or war.

effects of pollution
Pollution is wrecking your lungs. Even those masks are not enough. Image courtesy: Shutterstock.

How does increased air pollution impact your gut health?
The researchers looked at data from air-monitoring stations near the subjects’ addresses to calculate their previous-year exposure to ozone (which forms when emissions from vehicles are exposed to sunlight), particulate matter (hazardous particles suspended in the air), and nitrous oxide (a toxic byproduct of burning fossil fuel).

“The takeaway from this paper is that some of those effects might be due to changes in the gut,” Alderete added.

To investigate just what might be going on inside the gut, the research team used cutting-edge whole-genome sequencing to analyze fecal samples from 101 young adults in Southern California.

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The researchers looked at data from air-monitoring stations near the subjects’ addresses to calculate their previous-year exposure to ozone (which forms when emissions from vehicles are exposed to sunlight), particulate matter (hazardous particles suspended in the air), and nitrous oxide (a toxic byproduct of burning fossil fuel).

Of all the pollutants measured, ozone had the greatest impact on gut health by far, accounting for about 11 percent of the variation seen between study subjects – more of an impact than gender, ethnicity or even diet. Air pollution shall certainly take us down!

Those with higher exposure to ozone also had less variety of bacteria living in their gut, according to the study.

How does compromised gut health domino into other health hazards?
“Ozone is likely changing the environment of your gut to favor some bacteria over others, and that can have health consequences,” Alderete concluded.

The research found, with young adults exposed to higher levels of ozone showing less microbial diversity and more of certain species associated with obesity and disease.

Increased air quality index actually leads to weight gain
While much attention has been paid to respiratory health, Alderete’s previous studies have shown pollution can also impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and influence the risk of obesity.

air pollution and gut health
Did you Know? According to the recent study, air pollution directly impacts obesity. Image courtesy: Shutterstock.

Subjects with higher exposure to ozone also had a greater abundance of a specific species called Bacteroides caecimuris. That’s important because some studies have associated high levels of Bacteroides with obesity.

In all, the researchers identified 128 bacterial species influenced by increased ozone exposure.

Hey, attention please! Researchers have found out a fool-proof way to check obesity

How does obesity trickle into an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes?
Obesity unlike being overweight is the excess of accumulated body fat that begins to host multiple health threats in our body. In obese people, excess fat tissue cells have to process more nutrients than they can manage. While these cells scream ‘stress’, it triggers an inflammation that releases a protein known as cytokines.

air pollution and gut health
Who knew air pollution can impact the way our body processes insulin! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

It’s this cytokine that blocks the signals of insulin receptors that gradually causes the cells to become resistant to insulin. While your body is unable to convert the glucose into energy and you end up with a persistently high blood glucose level.

Besides suppressing normal responses to insulin, the stress also triggers inflammation in cells that can lead to heart disease.

“This is important since lower (bacteria) diversity has been linked with obesity and Type 2 diabetes,” noted Alderete.

While we all often come in contact with polluted air, it is significant to note that this compromised air quality doesn’t only impact our lungs. It destroys our gut barrier integrity which then fails to ward off inflammation, housing other health hazards.