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Your immune system works around the clock—day and night. It constantly monitors your body for microbes, prevents you from getting sick, and if you do get ill, your immune system adapts to fight off the infection. That’s why it’s essential to keep your immune system strong, so it can keep you healthy, no matter what.
But research suggests that these strategies are incomplete. In order to ensure your immune system is in optimal shape, it’s also important to take exposure to toxic environmental air pollutants into consideration.
Air pollution is a catch-all term that covers particulate matter, gasses, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals found in the air (1). These toxins can accumulate in the body over time, impacting your health in serious ways.
And it’s no small issue. A report by the American Lung Association puts a spotlight on how widespread this health risk is, finding that almost half of the United States, or 150 million people, are breathing polluted air (2).
So, what are all of the toxins in air doing to your immune system? Research shows the damage to your immune system can be extensive.
Evidence shows that toxins in air pollution can have substantial negative effects on the immune system thanks to a toxic brew of ozone, particulate matter, VOCs and heavy metals such as lead.
In the book Free Radical Biology and Medicine, the authors explain that “air pollutants can affect different immune cell types such as particle-clearing macrophages, inflammatory neutrophils, dendritic cells that orchestrate adaptive immune responses and lymphocytes that enact those responses” (3).
This simply means that air pollution can weaken a wide variety of immune cells. But that’s not all. These toxins can also cause inflammation, and make the body more susceptible to viruses.
One recent study looked at exposure to airborne brake dust, a common pollutant, and found that brake dust reduced the ability of immune cells to kill harmful bacteria or viruses (4).
This may be due to the toxic heavy metals found in brakes and tires. Researchers in Sweden showed that brake linings and tire tread emissions were a significant source of heavy metals in the air, releasing toxic cadmium, lead, and antimony, among others (5).
Yet another common air pollutant is diesel exhaust, which studies have found may alter the immune system, making you more susceptible to seasonal allergies (6). Animal studies also show the particulate matter in diesel exhaust may worsen autoimmune conditions (7).
While toxins in air pollution affect the entire immune system, experts have learned that airborne pollution hits the respiratory system particularly hard.
Air pollution may make respiratory issues more likely and more severe. These toxins impact immunity in a way that makes it harder for cells to clean up debris in the lungs, impacting respiratory health (3).
As toxins pass through the respiratory system, they can trigger oxidative stress and cause cell damage. Studies have found that people exposed to the toxins in air pollution are more likely to develop respiratory issues such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and asthma (8).
Toxins in air pollution increase both the risk of infection, and the severity of certain respiratory infections (9). To make matters worse, infections that affect the respiratory system are more dangerous with preexisting respiratory conditions such as asthma.
This compounding effect could explain why a recent Harvard study found a correlation between exposure to air pollution and a 15% increased death rate with COVID-19 infections (10).
Even if you’re stuck in a highly polluted area, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to the effects of toxins and air pollution. The human body is incredibly resilient. You just need to give it the support it needs to stay healthy. Here are five ways you can protect yourself from toxins in the air:
Indoor air can be just as polluted as outdoor air, due to volatile organic compounds and heavy metals. Take steps to reduce toxins in the home, make sure to use toxin-free household cleaners, add air-cleaning house plants, and consider a home air purifier to breathe cleaner air.
If you enjoy spending time outdoors, try to avoid being outside during the times of rush hour when pollution tends to be at its worst. As an added bonus, the sunshine will give you a vitamin D boost.
Antioxidants can protect the body from oxidative damage caused by harmful compounds such as those found in air pollution. It’s best to get your antioxidants by eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and berries. If you’re not getting 7-9 servings a day, a superfood green juice powder will give you all the goodness of organic veggies in a simple and fast way.
Many of the toxins found in air pollution can accumulate in your body over the years and become a serious threat. Detoxification is vital to remove the toxic heavy metals and pollutants that can cripple your immune system.
Natural mineral zeolite is a master detoxifier. The negative charge of the zeolite acts as a magnet to pull positively-charged toxins from the body, where they can no longer cause you harm. A nanosized zeolite offers the deepest detox, reaching throughout the body for a cellular cleanse.
Evidence suggests that toxins in air pollution can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to getting sick. Moreover, air pollution can increase the risks of developing respiratory issues, which put you at greater risk when facing an infection.