A study published in the journal BMJ Open has shown a strong link between environmental exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
PAH are chemicals formed from the burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, tobacco, and even the flame grilling of food.
The study also indicates that PAH are the primary cause of smoking’s impact on the risk of developing the disease.
Research Details and Findings
The researchers analyzed data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2007 to 2016.
The study included 21,987 adults, of whom 1,418 had rheumatoid arthritis and 20,569 did not.
The researchers measured the total amount of PAH, chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics and various consumer products (PHTHTEs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the body.
The odds of rheumatoid arthritis were highest among those in the top 25% of bodily PAH levels, regardless of whether or not they were smokers.
Only one PAH, 1-hydroxynaphthalene, was strongly associated with an 80% higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
However, PHTHTE and VOC metabolites were not associated with an increased risk of the disease.
Smoking and Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk
The study found that smoking was not associated with a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, after accounting for PAH levels in the body.
The research also showed that bodily PAH level accounted for 90% of the total effect of smoking on rheumatoid arthritis risk.
The study has certain limitations, but the authors write that it is the first to demonstrate that PAH not only underlies most of the relationship between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis but also contributes independently to the disease.
They also point out that PAH is ubiquitous in the environment, derived from various sources, and are mechanistically linked by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor to the underlying pathophysiology of rheumatoid arthritis.
The researchers note that people from lower socioeconomic groups may be particularly vulnerable to the health effects of PAH exposure since these people tend to experience poorer indoor air quality and may reside in urban areas next to major roadways or in high-traffic areas.
While the study is only observational and cannot determine causation, the findings highlight the need to monitor environmental pollutants carefully and reduce the public’s exposure to PAH to prevent the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
How to prevent rheumatoid arthritis
There is currently no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are some steps that people can take to help prevent or reduce the risk of developing the condition.
Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help to maintain healthy joints, improve flexibility and range of motion, and reduce inflammation.
Eat a healthy diet: A balanced diet can help to reduce inflammation in the body and provide the nutrients needed for healthy bones and joints. Eating foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and nuts, may be particularly beneficial.
Avoid smoking: Smoking has been strongly linked to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other health problems.
Minimize exposure to environmental toxins: Exposure to certain environmental toxins, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), has been linked to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Reducing exposure to these substances may help to lower the risk.
Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can put extra strain on the joints, which can increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Manage stress: High levels of stress can lead to inflammation in the body, which may contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Finding ways to manage stress, such as through meditation or exercise, may help to reduce the risk.
It’s also important to get regular check-ups with a healthcare provider, particularly if there is a family history of rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune conditions.
Early detection and treatment can help to manage symptoms and prevent complications.
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The study was published in BMJ Open.
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