How decades of air pollution weakening our immune system?
Environmental pollution affects our health, weakening our defenses, as well as our respiratory system. Our immune system is in charge of protecting us from any external element that can cause us a disease, infection or problem. It is our natural protective barrier, which is why it is so important that it is strong and cared for.
Air pollution weakening immune system
A new study by scientists at Columbia University has shown that decades of air pollution are weakening our immune system over time. The findings of this study have been published in the journal Nature Medicine. Which gives a new reason why people become more vulnerable to respiratory diseases as they age.
The study showed that these fine particles of air pollutants, which are inhaled, accumulate within the immune cells of the lymph nodes connected to the lungs for decades. Where these fine particles continue to weaken the cells’ ability to fight respiratory infections.
The aged (people older than 70) are especially vulnerable to respiratory infections. This fact also came to light during the Covid-19 pandemic. When the number of people over the age of 75 was 80 times more than the young of those who died from this epidemic. Also, aged people are more prone to influenza and other lung infections.
The researchers analyzed tissue from 84 deceased donors between the ages of 11 and 93. They were all non-smokers.
“When we looked at people’s lymph nodes, we were struck by how many nodes in the lung appeared black, while those in the GI tract and other areas of the body were the typical beige colour,” says Donna Farber, PhD, at Columbia University, who led the study.
The Columbia University researchers were not initially studying the effects of air pollution on the immune system. In this regard, Professor Donna Farber, principal investigator associated with the study, said: ‘When we looked at the lymph nodes of people, we were surprised because the lymph nodes in the lungs were black, while those in the gastrointestinal tract, i.e., The gastrointestinal tract and other parts of the body were dark.’
How pollution particles are affecting the immune system
Farber said that when he studied these black lymph nodes, it was found that these nodes were filled with particles of air pollutants. They discovered that the contaminant particles found in the lymph nodes of the lungs were located inside macrophages and immune cells.
Significantly, these immune cells destroy bacteria, viruses, cellular debris, and other potentially dangerous substances in the body. The research showed that the macrophage cells containing these particles were particularly misshapen. It was less able to absorb other particles and send cytokine signals.
In this regard, Professor Farber says that these immune cells are blocked by polluting particles, so they cannot do the necessary work. They help protect us against pathogens.
She says: “However, we still don’t fully know how much pollution affects the immune system of the lungs. But what is certainly clear is that it helps cause much more dangerous respiratory infections in older people. In such a situation, the prevention of air pollution is very important.
If we talk about India, then the problem of air pollution has taken a serious form in the country. This growing pollution is directly affecting people’s health. If we look at the air quality standards issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) then the entire country i.e. 130 crore Indians are breathing such air making them sick at all times.
susceptible to lung disease
James Kiley of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said the findings are interesting and help us understand why the aged are more susceptible to lung disease. Kiley, who did not work on the study, also added that the study supports a greater push to address air pollution, something that Farber and his colleagues bring up directly in the study.
‘Specific effects of pollutants on lung inflammation and asthma have been documented in certain individuals or within certain geographic regions,’ the researchers concluded in the study. ‘The effects of pollutants on neurodegenerative diseases are also well documented, and neuroinflammation is implicated in this process. We, therefore, propose that policies to limit carbon emissions will not only improve the global climate but also preserve our system.’
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