How Pollution Affects The Gut Microbiome
Pollutants pervade almost every aspect of our environment. Air pollution is one of the biggest threats, and water pollution comes in at a very close second. Even the pollutants in our foods are contributing to a myriad of health concerns. Researchers believe external pollution may be implicated in cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, among other of the most pressing health concerns of our time. Research is showing that persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, could be altering the gut microbiome and reducing the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the intestines. This imbalance is one of the driving forces behind some diseases, and could partially explain the detrimental effects of pollution on our health.
POPs and Your Gut Health
Our gut microbiome is intricate and is home to trillions of bacteria. The majority of the bacteria, when the body is healthy, is deemed as the “good” bacteria. You replenish this good bacteria with probiotics and feed it with prebiotics, like inulin and dietary fiber. The good bacteria in your gut is responsible for not only fighting off the bad bacteria, but for supporting immune health, mood, and even weight. Without a healthy microbiome, health would disintegrate at a rapid rate,
Certain compounds in the environment bind to specific receptors in the body, including the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. This receptor is responsible for keeping the gut healthy. Animal models have shown that POPs decrease good bacterial strains and increase the bad ones, imparting effects such as impaired liver function, intestinal swelling, and altered fat and glucose metabolism.  This may explain why pollution is so powerful for influencing obesity and diabetes risk.
What You Can Do
One of the best tactics against POPs is to eat an organic, preferably raw, diet. This will reduce your exposure to pesticides and other chemical ingredients commonly added to conventional food. Even internal pollutants–the origins of negative thoughts and emotions–may be reducing gut health and increasing the risk for disease. This is why it’s so important to reduce your exposure to television shows, movies, and literature that promote negative thinking without necessarily putting your head in the sand. Getting enough sleep is essential for managing stress, and some research shows it could help support a healthy gut.
- Lim SS, Vos T, Flaxman AD. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk fact clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2012 Dec 15;380(9859):2224-60. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61766-8.
- Carol Potera. POPs and Gut Microbiota: Dietary Exposure Alters Ratio of Bacterial Species. Environ Health Perspect; DOI; 10.1289/ehp.123-A187.