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You Are What You Breathe – The Gut Health/Clean Air Connection

A weird diagram of a human body

Air quality is a major health issue throughout the world. Presently, air pollution is the fifth leading risk factor in mortality globally accounting for nearly 9 million deaths. Presumably, air pollution effects on human health have been thought to relate to respiratory function. While this is indeed true, recent gut health research is highlighting other links between health and air quality. In short, researchers have now shown that poor air quality causes unwanted microbiome changes. And these changes may lead to a number of health conditions.

It’s no secret now that our microbiome significantly impacts our health and wellness. Gut health research has shown that microbiome changes can not only contribute to inflammatory bowel disease but a host of other health issues. These include obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune conditions. However, air pollution effects on human health were not previously believed to relate to similar microbiome changes. But based on a recent trial at the University of Colorado, Boulder, this looks to actually be the case.

“We know from previous research that air pollutants can have a whole host of adverse health effects. The takeaway from this paper is that some of those effects might be due to changes in the gut.” – Tanya Alderete, PhD, Researcher of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder

The Effect of Ozone on Gut Health

The gut health research that was recently performed examined a total of 101 young adults over a period of time. The air quality where each participant lived was repeated examined. This included measurements of ozone, particulate matter, and nitrous oxide. The participants then provided periodic fecal samples that were analyzed for DNA sequencing. The results demonstrated that those individuals exposed to higher ozone levels had a less diverse microbiome. This suggested that air pollution effects on human health may definitely extend beyond the respiratory system and into the gut.

A woman taking a deep breath of fresh air
According to recent gut health research, the air you breathe affects gut health, too.

Some of the findings in this gut health research were actually quite interesting. When the researchers compared the effect that gender, ethnicity and even diet had on participant microbiomes, ozone’s impact was greater. In fact, changes in ozone amounts accounted for an 11 percent change in individual’s microbiome content. Because a less diverse microbiome is linked to several diseases, these findings are quite relevant. Negative microbiome effects could be one of the more significant air pollution effects on human health.

“The lining of the gut designed to serve as a barrier to keep bad bacteria out of the body and allow good bacteria to do its thing. If something happens to impact the integrity of lining of wall, this can create little holes where pathogenic microbes to get it, which can trigger immune response.” – Gilaad Kaplan, Associate Professor at the University of Calgary

Other Gut Health Research Implicating Air Pollution

The current research linking air pollution effects to human health via the gut is not the first. A few years prior, a study out of the UK demonstrated that poor air quality increases the risk of several gastrointestinal disorders. Specifically, appendicitis occurrence and severity were associated with poor air quality as was complaints of abdominal pain. It was also noted that Crohn’s disease was more common among young adults exposed to higher amounts of nitrous oxide in the air. This gut health research supports the more recent findings described.

The precise mechanism by which poor air quality interferes with gut health is not yet clear. However, those involved in gut health research suspect that pollutants selectively allow some less favorable bacteria to thrive. At the same time, good bacteria do less well and are believed to be unable to compete with bad bacteria. Therefore, not only does the microbiome become less diverse but also filled with bacteria less capable of promoting wellness. The air pollution effects on human health could therefore involve our gut as well as our lungs.

“Ozone is likely changing the environment of your gut to favor some bacteria over others, and that can have health consequences.” – Tanya Alderete, PhD

Immediate Solutions to Improve Gut Health

While improving air quality is an obvious goal to improve gut health, more immediate measures are needed. In this regard, Dr. Steven Gundry has performed extensive investigations into various approaches to improve microbiome health and diversity. His gut health research has led him to some important discoveries. Specifically, he has noted that certain foods containing lectins can damage the microbiome over time. Likewise, overuse of antibiotics in foods and medical care also are causing problems. As a result, his approach to better microbiome health is a dietary one.

In essence, Dr. Gundry encourages the use of not only probiotics but also prebiotics. Prebiotics provide good bacteria in our gut the nutrients they need to thrive. In contrast, probiotics replenishes our microbiome with more favorable bacteria. In addition to these measures, he recommends a product that helps prevent lectins from cause damage. Taken in relation to one’s diet, this too can promote better gut health. These therapies notably do not directly deter air pollution effects on human health in the gut. However, they do help counterbalance their negative impacts.

Long-Term Considerations for Better Health

While dietary changes and supplements offer immediate therapies to improve gut health, long-term ones are also needed. Based on the recent gut health research, efforts to improve air quality is needed. Unfortunately, trends are moving in the wrong direction. Between 2009 and 2016, air quality in the U.S. declined by 24 percent. A further decline of 5.5 percent then occurred between 2016 and 2018. Understanding air pollution effects on human health, public health policies must address these issues more comprehensively.

At the same time, antibiotic use must be evaluated with much greater caution. Excessive use of these drugs in our food supply is undermining gut health on a large scale. Individual dietary changes and precautions certainly help. But bigger impacts could be made with larger scale changes in food production practices. As more gut health research emerges, it is becoming clear that our microbiome plays a major role in our well-being. And it’s not just what you eat that matters… it’s also what you breathe.


Health is an important Pillar in a Bold Life. To read more about the Seven Pillars, check out Ed Kopko’s PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.

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