A wave of new research suggests that the consumption of healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids (OFAs) could help to mitigate the damage from breathing polluted air, a problem faced by billions around the world. Research has also emphasized that air pollution particles can make their way into other organs to do damage far beyond the lungs, suggesting that damage from toxic air is an even greater problem than has been estimated.

Omega 3s are found in oil from hemp, flax and fish, and has been shown to help prevent and treat inflammation and oxidative stress from air pollution in mice. The OFAs caused a 30 to 50 percent reduction in damage, according to the research.

Recent World Health Organization research showed that rising air pollution threatens nearly all urban areas in poorer nations, and roughly half of those in richer areas.

While polluted air has an established connection to heart disease and strokes, more recent research also connects toxic air to problems including dementia, mental illness, diabetes, kidney disease, and premature births.

Lead researcher Dr Jing Kang, from Massachusetts General Hospital, which is a part of Harvard Medical School, said:

“I can anticipate the same things [in mice] would happen in humans, because many other inflammatory diseases in humans can be treated with OFAs. We feel very confident OFAs can do something very good. I would definitely recommend taking OFAs to counter air pollution problems. OFAs are well known to have many other healthy benefits and the key thing is they are not like a drug, but a nutrient with so many benefits.”

He recommended two to four grams per day, as equivalent dosage to those of the mice in the study. A small human trial in 2012 supported the assertion that OFAs could counter this damage in humans, and the US Environmental Protection Agency is now starting a broader trial.

Kang added that air pollution is a wide ranging problem that must be addressed directly, saying “Pollution is a very critical issue for human health, but we cannot change the environment right away.” He said his team hoped to offer “an immediate, practical solution for reducing the disease burden of air pollution” with OFAs.

The research exposed mice to fluorescent particles similar in size to in harmful PM2.5 air pollution.

The research reported:

“Fine fluorescent particles were observed not only in the lungs but also in other organs, including the brain, liver, kidneys, spleen, and testes. These results demonstrate that fine particles can penetrate the barrier and travel to other organs, potentially inducing systemic illnesses.”

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