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Pollution Increases Autoimmune Disease

Chronic inflammation can lead to autoimmune disease. This is probably something you’ve heard before. However, our understanding of what causes chronic inflammation continues to evolve.

In a review study published this year in Frontiers in Science, researchers found that climate change is associated with an increase in autoimmune disease. Pollution in the environment – in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and even in the soil we use for farmland – breaks down the body’s epithelial layers (protective barriers in our skin, airways, and gut), allowing pollutants in and triggering an inflammatory response. Ongoing exposure of a damaged barrier to these pollutants generates chronic inflammation and increases disease risk. Depending on the length of exposure and the particle size of the pollutants, climate change-associated pollution can almost double autoimmune disease risk.

Scientists who conducted the study remind us that pollution is not just air and water pollution; it also includes chemicals and additives in food like emulsifiers, coloring, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, microplastics, etc. These substances can damage the gut lining and lead to increased intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut).

Pollution can seem like an insurmountable problem that can only be tackled on a global level, but three actionable steps you can take right now to lower your risk of exposure, and in turn, your risk of autoimmune disease, include:

  1. Eat less processed foods; focus on foods that come directly from the ground. Abiding by two of Michael Pollin’s food rules may help here:
    1. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
    1. Avoid food products containing ingredients that you wouldn’t ordinarily have in your pantry.
  2. Use water filters for drinking and bathing.
  3. Spend as much time as possible outdoors in green spaces such as parks and forests, or if you can, choose to live in an area surrounded by nature.

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