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Fine particulate matter and its effect on our health

Fine particulate matter and its effect on our health

Fine particulate matter is a major problem in the environment in which we live as it affects our health and quality of life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 99% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality recommendations are not followed. Air pollution is associated with 6.7 million premature deaths each year. As societies become more industrialised and technologically advanced, pollution increases, and this affects respiratory health

Functional medicine provides a holistic and patient-centered approach to managing respiratory disease, especially when considering the link between environmental toxins and health. It uncovers and addresses the causes of respiratory problems by conducting research and developing individualized, holistic therapy and treatment plans.

What are environmental toxins?

Environmental toxins are physical substances, chemicals or biological organisms that can adversely affect human health. Growth in industrial production, fossil fuel consumption and modern agricultural practices have dramatically increased human exposure to environmental toxins. Many of the products and processes contributing to environmental pollution are an integral part of modern lifestyles, and this makes efforts to limit their use quite difficult. Exposure to environmental toxins can occur through inhalation, ingestion (through food and water) and skin contact. Inhalation is particularly important for respiratory health as it directly involves the respiratory system.

Air pollution arises from both natural and man-made sources and is categorised into two forms – outdoor and indoor. Outdoor air pollution caused by vehicle emissions, industrial activities and natural events such as forest fires includes pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, heavy metals and carbon monoxide. Indoor air pollution originates from more localised sources. Household products such as cleaning products emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), cooking and heating appliances emit particulates and gases. Tobacco smoke can also introduce a host of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere at home. Additional factors include radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, and mold spores.

The link between environmental toxins and respiratory problems

Exposure to environmental toxins contributes significantly to the development and exacerbation of respiratory diseases such as asthma, allergies and COPD. Children and adolescents are more susceptible to the effects of polluted air than adults. 

The human respiratory system develops from birth to approximately six years of age, which represents the most significant period of development. Because of their smaller airways, immature detoxification systems, and frequent exposure to polluted air, children are more susceptible to respiratory toxins than adults. Older adults also face increased susceptibility to inflammation and respiratory complications resulting from air pollution. 

Asthma and allergic diseases have shown a significant increase worldwide in recent decades. Environmental factors have emerged as key contributors to this upward trend. Secondhand smoke exposure has been identified as a significant risk factor for childhood asthma. Furthermore, people living in urban areas experience increased exposure to various environmental compounds, which is consistently correlated with increased levels of allergies and asthma. Inhalation of pollutants initiates oxidative stress in the lungs and immune cells respond by generating reactive oxygen species (ROS). These reactive oxygen species not only cause lung damage but also activate signaling pathways, amplifying inflammation and exacerbating airway hyperreactivity. 

Exposure to polluted air also triggers changes in cytokine production, upsetting the delicate balance of the immune system. Indirect mechanisms, such as epigenetic changes and alterations in the microbiome, also contribute to changes in lung function. 

How do fine particulate matter affect health?

As fine particulate matter has become a serious social problem in recent years, interest in its impact on human health is growing. According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO), fine dust has been classified as a Class 1 carcinogen since 2013. 

Fine dust affects not only respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, but also cerebrovascular diseases and diseases of the nervous system, leading to impaired lung function and increased mortality rates. Furthermore, long-term high levels of fine dust are reported to have adverse effects not only on physical health but also on mental health. Clinical studies are being conducted to empirically test the relationship between fine dust and mental health in different contexts.

According to previous studies on the effects of fine dust on mental health, fine dust causes inflammation and oxidative stress when it enters the human body. This may influence the pathogenesis of depression. With regard to fine dust, there are differences in the effects on the human body depending on the size of its particles. Ultrafine dust (Particle Matter; PM 2,5) with a diameter of 2,5 µm has been found to affect even dopamine secretion from the nervous system in the brain, which can cause depression and even increase the risk of suicide. 

Lifestyle changes for improved respiratory function

A key part of any treatment plan to improve respiratory health involves adopting lifestyle changes that prioritise lung function. Regular physical activity is a cornerstone, as exercise promotes cardiovascular fitness and strengthens respiratory muscles. Sport improves the overall capacity of the lungs. 

Smoking cessation

Smoking cessation is a primary lifestyle change that supports respiratory health. Smoking damages the lungs and is a leading cause of chronic respiratory disease. Maintaining a clean indoor environment is also critical. Regular cleaning and dusting, use of air purifiers, and providing adequate ventilation reduce indoor air pollutants that can compromise respiratory function.

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can help optimize lung function and capacity. Pulmonary rehabilitation specialists can train individuals with chronic respiratory disease to use these techniques.

Maintaining quality sleep

Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of many health problems. Oxidative stress is an essential part of the etiology of chronic lung disease, and sleep deprivation promotes oxidative stress. Sleep deprivation is associated with adverse changes in lung function in chronic respiratory conditions. The recommended sleep time for the elderly is between 7-9 hours. Some recommendations for improving sleep quality include:

  • Adherence to a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Exposure to natural light during the day.
  • Maintaining a calm and cool atmosphere in the bedroom.
  • Limit the use of electronic devices in the evening.
  • Avoiding heavy foods and caffeine just before bedtime.

Taking nutritional supplements

To support the respiratory tract and protect against harmful environmental factors, the use of supplements is also recommended. Alveo Sil is a high-quality dietary supplement developed to support respiratory health. It contains specially selected ingredients that strengthen the lungs and help maintain the health of the alveoli and sinuses. The product is suitable for people who often suffer from respiratory diseases or want to strengthen the protection of their respiratory system.

In conclusion

Embracing the principles of functional medicine is paramount to optimizing respiratory health. Through a functional medicine approach, individuals can proactively address underlying issues by limiting exposure to toxins and optimizing diet and lifestyle. This holistic perspective can optimize lung function and support a person’s overall long-term health.

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