Monday, August 8, 2022

Longterm Air Pollution Exposure Might Increase The Risk Of Irritable Bowel Disease & Rheumatoid Arthritis

Being exposed to air pollution over a prolonged period has significant impacts on your body. So, as a defense mechanism, your body triggers an adaptive immunity by reacting to a disease-causing entity. But as the immune system gears up to respond, it sometimes misfires. That results in systemic inflammation, tissue damage, and eventually autoimmune disease.

In a new study published in the journal RMD Open, Researchers found that people who have been living in areas with high levels of air pollution are at a heightened risk of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Other examples of autoimmune diseases include lupus, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, vitiligo, psoriasis, and multiple sclerosis. Over the last decade, the prevalence of these diseases has been gradually increasing. While the exact cause remains unknown, a group of researchers delved into whether air pollution could be linked to this.

They got access to the medical history of 81,363 men and women from the national Italian fracture risk database (DeFRA). Around 3500 doctors had submitted this information to the database from June 2016 to November 2020. The majority of the participants were women (92 percent) with a mean age of 65. Around 22 percent had at least one co-morbidity.

The researchers used their postcodes to link them to their nearest air quality monitoring station run by the Italian Institute of Environmental Protection and Research. They focused on the impact of particulate matter (PM).

PM2.5 and PM10 are a mixture of minute and minuscule solid particles and droplets. That includes dust, soot, and smoke. The main sources of PM2.5 and PM10 are factories, traffic, construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, open-air fires, and smokestacks.

The team got access to data from 617 air quality monitoring systems in 110 locations across Italy. Around 12 percent of the study’s participants were diagnosed with an autoimmune disease between 2016 and 2020. The researchers observed that PM10 was associated with a 7% heightened risk for every 10µg/m3 increase in air pollution levels.

While long-term exposure to PM10 was particularly associated with a greater risk of rheumatoid arthritis, PM2.5 was associated with connective tissue diseases and inflammatory bowel diseases — including rheumatoid arthritis.

“PM2.5 molecules, given their small diameter, are less affected by rain and weather conditions compared to larger PMs. PM2.5 concentrations do not fluctuate in response to rain and might represent a more accurate proxy for chronic exposure to air pollution than PM10. This evidence might explain the discrepancy that we found in our analysis,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

The number one culprit is long-term exposure to traffic and industrial air pollutants at a 40 percent greater risk of rheumatoid arthritis and 20 percent higher risk of inflammatory bowel diseases. Air pollution exposure could also be responsible for a 15 percent higher risk of connective tissue disease. It refers to a group of disorders that involve collagen and elastin — both are protein-rich tissues that support the functioning of organs. They are found in the tendons, ligaments, skin, cornea, and bone and blood vessels. Some examples of connective tissue disease are scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Churg-Strauss syndrome, and others.

However, the researchers observed that a limitation of the study is the participants were predominantly older women who tend to be more prone to fractures. Hence, the prevalence of autoimmune diseases might not reflect the actual prevalence in the general population of such diseases. Other than that, the date of their diagnosis and onset of autoimmune diseases was not available.


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