Environmental Links to Disease: An Anti-Aging Medical Perspective for Risk Reduction
The US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), submits: "Your environment is your health. So to improve your health, see that your family's environment is a healthy one." Acknowledging that evidence shows that diseases, including asthma, autism, breast cancer, other cancers, lung diseases, lupus, Parkinson's Disease, and reproductive issues, may be strongly linked to environmental exposures, the NIEHS urges: "You and your family can … do a lot about your personal environment – your surroundings, your exposures, your diet and your health habits – to extend your life and to improve your fitness and appearance."
In this column, we recap the latest studies that reveal important environmental links to disease. These summaries prove that it is clearly essential that each of us make a deliberate effort to minimize or limit our exposure to environmental hazards, to improve the odds of living a long, healthy, happy, rewarding, productive life.
NIEHS. A Family Guide – 20 Easy Steps to Personal Environmental Health Now [online document]. http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/a_family_guide_20_easy_
steps_to_personal_environmental_health_now.pdf; accessed 2 Jan. 2012.
High Levels of Bisphenol A Common in Paper Products Around the World
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a compound regarded as an endocrine disruptor with potential risks to human health. Used commonly in the manufacture of plastic water bottles and the lining of food cans, some researchers now investigate the extent of nonfood sources of BPA in humans' daily BPA exposure. Kurunthachalam Kannan and colleagues from the State University of New York/Albany (SUNY; New York, US) investigated the role of BPA in respect to the surfaces of thermal receipts, where it acts as a developer for the printing dye. Analyzing hundreds of samples of thermal cash register receipts and 14 other types of paper products from the US, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the researchers found BPA on 94% of the receipts. The only BPA- free receipts were those from Japan, which phased out this use of BPA in 2001. As well, BPA was in most of the other types of paper products, with tickets, newspapers, and flyers having the highest concentrations. From this data, the team estimates that handling of paper products can contribute up to 2% of the total daily BPA exposures in the general population, and this fraction can be much higher in occupationally exposed individuals. Writing, "Concentrations of BPA dramatically increased after 24 h of contact with thermal receipt papers, suggesting that thermal receipt paper is an important source of BPA in paper currencies," the study authors warn: "The estimated daily intake of BPA through dermal absorption from handling paper currencies was on the order of a few nanograms per day."
Liao C, Kannan K. High levels of bisphenol a in paper currencies from several countries, and implications for dermal exposure. Environ Sci Technol. July 11, 2011;45(16):6761–6768.
Plastic Food Wrap Poses Food Safety Risk
Foods wrapped in plastic film may expose people to bisphenol A and phthalates, compounds regarded as endocrine disruptors with potential risks to human health. Ruthann A. Rudel and colleagues from the Silent Spring Institute (Massachusetts, US) conducted a short intervention trial involving five families, each with two children, who were enrolled in a three-phase study that lasted eight days. Making the switch to fresh food resulted in a 66% drop in participants' urinary concentration of bisphenol A, and metabolites of a commonly used phthalate – bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP – fell by between 53% and 56% within a few days. The team reports: "BPA and DEHP exposures were substantially reduced when participants' diets were restricted to food with limited packaging."
Rudel RA, Gray JM, Engel CL, et al. Food packaging and bisphenol a and bis(2-ethyhexyl) phthalate exposure: findings from a dietary intervention. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119:914–920.
Aromatherapy Oils May Emit Harmful Air Pollutants
Aromatherapy uses fragrant essential oils, derived from plants. Der-Jen Hsu and colleagues from the National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology (Taiwan) report that essential oils used in aromatherapy may emit potentially harmful indoor air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the degradation of which by ozone present in the air can produce small, ultrafine byproducts known as secondary organic aerosols (SOAs), which may cause eye and airway irritation. The team tested both fragrant and Chinese herbal essential oils for SOA formation in a controlled-environment study chamber under different test conditions. They also performed air sampling and analysis in spa centers that offer massage therapy using essential oils. Writing, "This study concludes that configuration and ventilation within spa centers can potentially affect the level of indoor air pollutants emitted during massage therapy," the researchers warn: "Indoor air quality in the environments using essential oils and the health effects caused by human exposure to volatile organic compounds and terpenes ozonolysis products, such as [secondary organic aerosols], in the spa centers are an area of concern."
Hsu D-J, Huang H-L, Sheu S-C. Characteristics of air pollutants and assessment of potential exposure in spa centers during aromatherapy. Environ Eng Sci. October 20, 2011.
Swimmers Exposed to Harmful Compounds
Haloacetic acids (HAAs) are a group of chemicals formed along with other disinfection byproducts when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter. Epidemiological studies suggest that HAA exposure during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy may be linked to birth defects in newborns, and some data suggest that HAAs may negatively affect the endocrine system. Mercedes Gallego and colleagues from the Universidad de Cordoba (Spain) studied HAA levels in the urine of 49 volunteers who swam in or worked around an indoor and outdoor pool, finding that HAAs appeared 20 to 30 minutes after exposure, with over 90% of the exposures occurring as a result of swallowing pool water. While government regulations in the US and Europe limit the levels of HAAs that can appear in drinking water, the study authors warn that HAA exposure from swimming pools, where water may contain higher levels due to recirculation systems that lengthen water's exposure to chlorine and provide more time for HAAs to form, is largely unmonitored and unregulated.
Cardador J, Gallego M. Haloacetic acids in swimming pools: swimmer and worker exposure. Environ Sci Technol. June 7, 2011;45(13):5783–5790.
Chronic Exposure to Air Pollution Triggers Systemic Inflammation
Chronic inhalation of fine particulate matter (PM) has long been linked to increased morbidity and mortality from ischemic cardiovascular events; however, until now the precise reasons for this have remained elusive. Sanjay Rajagopalan, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Ohio State, and colleagues exposed different groups of mice to filtered air or air containing from 8 to 10 times more PM than urban ambient air. The mice were exposed for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for at least 20 weeks. Some of the mice used in the experiment lacked a molecule called toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), which recognizes specific characteristics of pathogens and then sends out signals to activate other immune system component. It is known that mice that lack TLR4 do not produce as much inflammation after exposure to pollution as do normal mice, thus suggesting that TLR4 plays an important role in the body's response to chronic exposure to PM. Results of the experiment showed that normal mice chronically exposed to air containing PM had higher levels of inflammatory monocytes in their spleens and bloodstream than mice breathing filtered air. Mice with TLR4-deficiency exhibited a diminished response to breathing PM, thus suggesting that if the receptor is not present, the monocytes will not be released. Results also showed that the increase in monocytes was accompanied by an increase in superoxides in the blood vessels. Again, the TLR4-deficient mice produced fewer oxygen free radicals in response to polluted air than did normal mice. The results of these and other experiments led Rajagopalan to conclude: "PM stimulates inflammation in the lung, and products of that inflammation spill over into the body's circulation, traveling to fat tissue to promote inflammation and causing vascular dysfunction. We haven't identified the entire mechanism, but we have evidence now that activation of TLR4 influences this response."
Kampfrath T, Maiseyeu A, Ying Z, et al. Chronic fine particulate matter exposure induces systemic vascular dysfunction via NADPH oxidase and TLR4 pathways. Circ Res. 2011;108:716–726.
Learn how to minimize your risks of environmental exposures and make prudent decisions to intervene in these disease-raising risks. Visit the World Health Network (www.worldhealth.net), the official educational website of the A4M and your one-stop resource for authoritative anti-aging information. Be sure to sign up for the free Longevity Magazine e-journal, the A4M's award-winning weekly health newsletter featuring wellness, prevention, and biotech advancements in longevity.