Air pollution has long been implicated as a cause of heart and lung disease, in part because it triggers inflammation in the body. While research into the role of air pollution on gastrointestinal diseases is still in its early stages, a link has already been established. The development of inflammatory bowel diseases has 3 main factors associated with its development – genetic factors, environmental factors and the subsequent immune response.
Air pollution creates inflammation…
Air pollution and environmental toxins in general all promote inflammation and this is basically the immune system reacting to the poison. Over time, if this inflammation continues, the immune system can begin to malfunction, and begin attacking the body’s own cells. IBD did not emerge until after industrialization, so while environmental factors like air pollution may not explain its cause entirely, a strong role appears likely.
One theory for how air pollution might contribute to gastrointestinal tract disease is that it may alter the make-up of bacteria in your gut – a factor that’s being linked to chronic disease of all kinds. The good bacteria in the gut is essential to maintaining good health. They manufacture vitamins, prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria, and help to regulate gut and immune function. If air-pollution alters the balance of good and bad bacteria, this sets the scene for digestive dysfunction to develop. Air pollutant particles may irritate the gut lining, making it more permeable.
A study using mice showed that on exposure to air pollutant particles, they displayed an increased inflammatory response, greater gut permeability, alteration to gut flora, and a decrease in the responsiveness in certain types of white blood cells.
Reducing the risk…
Avoiding air pollution is almost impossible, particularly in cities. However, there are some measures that can be taken to reduce exposure, as it’s not just car fumes that cause air pollution. Chemicals from cleaners, paints, floorboards, carpets and plastics all contribute to pollution, particularly inside the house. Reducing exposure might include reducing the amount of chemicals you use in your home, having indoor plants or an air purifier. Having the windows open in the house or office can also help.
Taking a proactive approach to health is the key; reducing exposure to the hazards of 21st century life may be the only way to avoid all the problems that go along with it.
 Kish. L et al. Environmental particulate matter induces murine intestinal inflammatory responses and alters the gutmicrobiome. PLoS One. 2013 Apr 24;8(4)