Posted on Nov 07, 2019, 4 p.m.
It is no secret that air pollution is bad for the brain, lungs and heart, and ccording to recent University of North Texas research air pollution can even add to your waistline.
Exposure to certain air pollutants has been found to be able to cause weight gain, especially if this is paired with a high fat diet which was revealed when investigating how automobile exhaust pollution affects the growth and signalling of adipocyte fat cells. Amie Lund, a cardiovascular toxicology research at UNT determined that car exhaust can trigger body responses that can lead to increased adipocyte growth and inflammation; both of which are associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease based on the findings.
“When people think of the root causes of obesity they often think of genetics and diet,” Lund said. “But, there are external factors, such as environmental pollutants, that stress the systems of our body constantly and may play a role in contributing to diseases like obesity.”
Findings suggest that inhaling automobile and diesel exhaust alters signals that are generated and received by these fat cells, this can cause the adipocyte fat cells to grow 12-25% larger in size or even increase in number, according to the research.
“Cells in the body talk,” Lund said. “The signals sent and received govern the basic activity of cells in the organ systems of the body. These signals are chemicals, and like all forms of communication, they can be distorted.”
Changes in the adipocyte fat cells can also promote increased lipid storage, activation of the immune system, and inflammation; these responses can then trigger additional fat cell production creating a feedback loop wherein the two systems keep driving each other forward.
“When we learn something like this we always rush to the ‘what pill can we take to fix this’ step,” Lund said. “But in this case, it is not that simple.”
There are several systems in place within the body to help maintain healthy organs, but sometimes external stressors can unbalance these systems, and as Lund explains, in this case less exposure to these air pollutants would be a good idea, it is best to limit the time spent outdoors in polluted areas, near traffic, and when there are high levels of air pollution or low air quality being reported.
“We should be aware that exercising outside during poor air quality days, or in the vicinity of high levels of traffic-generated air pollutants (i.e. near busy roadways), can increase our exposure to these pollutants because of the increased rate of respiration that occurs during exercise,” Lund said.
As an associate professor in the College of Science, Amie Lund specializes in investigating how air pollution exposure promotes progression of inflammatory diseases, and how it can cause disruptions in the blood brain barrier that has been linked to Multiple Sclerosis, stroke, and neurodegenerative diseases. This study is ongoing, and is funded by a $437,964 R15 Research Enhancement Award grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.