In a new study, researchers found chemical pollutants could harm the body in 8 ways: oxidative stress and inflammation, genomic alterations and mutations, epigenetic alterations, mitochondrial dysfunction, endocrine disruption, altered intercellular communication, altered microbiome communities, and impaired nervous system function.
The research was conducted by a team at Columbia University and elsewhere.
We are continually exposed to a mixture of pollutants, which lead to changes in our bodies in multiple domains, from conception to old age.
They govern gene expression, train and shape our immune systems, trigger physiological responses, and determine wellbeing and disease.
In this review study, the team provided a framework to understand why complex mixtures of environmental exposures bring about serious illness.
They summarized evidence for eight hallmarks of environmental insults:
- Oxidative stress and inflammation: When antioxidant defenses are depleted, inflammation, cell death, and organ damage occur.
- Genomic alterations and mutations: An accumulation of DNA errors can trigger cancer and other chronic diseases.
- Epigenetic alterations: Epigenetic changes alter the synthesis of proteins responsible for childhood development and regular function of the body.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction: A breakdown in the cellular powerplant may interfere with human development and contribute to chronic disease.
- Endocrine disruption: Chemicals found in our environment, food, and consumer products disrupt the regulation of hormones and contribute to disease.
- Altered intercellular communication: Signaling receptors and other means by which cells communicate with each other, including neurotransmission, are affected.
- Altered microbiome communities: An imbalance in the population of bacteria and other microorganisms in our body can make us susceptible to allergies and infections.
- Impaired nervous system function. Microscopic particles in air pollution reach the brain through the olfactory nerve and can interfere with cognition.
The researchers note that not all environmental exposures are harmful. Exposure to nature has been reported to have beneficial impacts on mental health.
Further research is needed to understand the complex mechanisms by which exposures affect human biology, and how altered processes interact and contribute to disease or confer health benefits, across the life course.
One author of the study is Andrea Baccarelli, MD, Ph.D.
The study is published in Cell.
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