Research has found that long-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of autoimmune disease. A study by researchers at the University of Verona in Italy determined that exposure to high levels of pollution increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis by 40% and inflammatory bowel disease by 20%. 

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The researchers analyzed the medical information of 81,363 adults in Italy to find the relationship between pollution and autoimmune conditions. Patient monitoring occurred from 2016 to 2020. Over this period, about 12% of participants were diagnosed with autoimmune disease. Researchers compared patient data against air quality monitoring stations for their residential postcodes.

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Patients who experienced long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) were at a 12-13% higher risk of developing autoimmune disease. These fine particles are mainly produced by vehicles and power stations. 

According to Felicity Gavins, director of the Centre for Inflammation Research and Translational Medicine at Brunel University London, there is evidence to link autoimmune conditions with air pollution. “This study further supports the mounting evidence suggesting a link between air pollution exposure and immune-mediated diseases,” Gavins said. “Whether air pollution exposure specifically causes autoimmune diseases remains controversial, although there is no doubt that there is a link.”

Exposure to particulate matter has already been linked with many other conditions. According to a global review published in 2019, almost every cell in the human body can be affected by dirty air. Researchers have even linked polluted air to increased risk for strokes, brain cancer, mental health problems and miscarriages.

However, Gavins acknowledges that the recent study doesn’t give conclusive results. Further studies can provide more insight into Italy’s rising cases of autoimmune conditions. Gavins notes that smoking may contribute to the situation.

Dr. Giovanni Adami, one of the study’s authors from the University of Verona said, “The World Health Organization has recently identified air pollution as one of the greatest environmental risks to health. Our study provides new real-life evidence on the link between autoimmune diseases and air pollution exposure. In addition, there is a strong biological rationale underpinning our findings. However, a causal relationship is hard to prove. Indeed, it is unlikely that randomised controlled studies could be conducted on such topic.”

Via The Guardian

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