Air pollution is an ever-growing problem affecting all countries in the world and it has become one of the main concerns of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Although the statists show that regions and cities with lower- and middle-income population and fast-growing cities in the developing countries are the ones suffering from the highest exposures, even some of the most developed countries including the US have seen the levels of air pollution rising above limits in the recent years. E.g. the “State of the Air” report of The American Lung Association 2019 indicates that the air quality in much of the nation got worse in the recent years and the number of people living in counties with unhealthy has risen to nearly 141.1 million.
Whether it is smog covering cities or smoke inside the home, air pollution is one of the major threats to our health. The combined effect of outdoor and household air pollution accounts for around 7 million premature deaths every year, mainly as a result of higher mortality from lung cancer, acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke and heart diseases. Besides this, a recent study carried out by researchers from the Hasselt University also points out towards the possibility of pollution leading to accelerated aging on a cellular level. This is because pollutant exposure is claimed to affect two hallmarks of aging including mitochondrial DNA content and telomere length. Nonetheless, the results obtained were not so clear-cut and although the finding suggest that pollution could have an impact on molecular aging hallmarks, more in-depth research is needed to define the mechanism and biological effects.
While further studies are needed to assess the overall impact of air pollution on telomeres, more alarming conclusions have been made after several studies that investigated the impact of prenatal air pollution on the telomeres of new-born babies. The findings of a 2017 study published in the JAMA Pediatrics, included new-borns whose mothers were exposed to higher levels of particular pollution, indicate that these new-borns had significantly lower (around 8.8%) lower telomere length than those whose mothers were not exposed to as much pollution. Given the fact that telomere length at birth is related to overall life expectancy, the relationship between prenatal air pollution exposure and telomere length at birth could give us new insights in the environmental influence on cellular biology.
Back in 2016, the WHO already warned about outdoor air pollution levels that had grown 8% over the past 5 years and the levels continue rising at the present time. This tendency of air pollution increasing globally each year, has called for the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health held in Geneva in 2018. With almost 900 attendees present, many interesting discussions and proposals on how to reduce air pollution were discussed. The conference was a great success and resulted in more than 70 commitments, to tackle the air pollution problem while contributing to the global battle.
Given the links between telomere shortening and various diseases, a lot of people are now interested in finding ways to lengthen their telomeres or slow down or stop their shortening. Most of these therapies focus on a healthy diet, improved stress management and more exercise. However, as we can see, multiple studies suggest that there is also a strong connection between telomere shortening and air pollution. Follow simple actions to help reduce air pollution and join the global effort: save the planet and your telomeres.