Pollution is bad for more than just the environment

Jaylyn Porras and Mariana Turner

Links between Pollutants and Diabetes/Obesity: 

Epidemiological studies have found that people with higher exposures to persistent organic pollutants  (POPs) have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes or obesity,  with exposure to POPs in the womb or early adolescence increasing the probability of their development . 

Microplastics and its adverse effects: Hitching a dangerous ride with plastics

Research in microplastics (MPs) has shown their potential to cause serious health issues by acting as carriers of contaminants into organisms. . This study investigated whether MPs could transport and release phthalate esters (PAEs) into mouse gut and have toxic effects. It found that MPs could absorb and carry PAEs into the gut and cause intestinal accumulation, intestinal permeability and enhanced intestinal inflammation in the mice. Gut microbiota analysis also found that exposure to MPs caused changes in the gut microbiota composition. “Some energy metabolism and immune function related bacteria were significantly changed in the relative abundance.”

The dirty truth: Triclosan’s impact on human gut microbial composition in vitro

The recently banned antimicrobial compound triclosan, commonly used in consumer soaps, was found to present health risks to  the environment as well as humans, as it was found to be present in human plasma, urine and milk. “Through our in vitro system simulating three regions of the human gut; the ascending colon, transverse colon, and descending colon regions, we found that treatment with triclosan significantly impacted the community structure in terms of reduced population, diversity, and metabolite production, most notably in the ascending colon region.” Given a two-week recovery period, most of the population levels of the different gut regions were able to recover. This data shows that triclosan does have immediate and serious side effects from short and long term use but also that recovery is possible for most.. 

Foul Play: Short-term exposure to air pollution

In an experiment with mice, researchers observed the effects of exposure to short term air pollution as well as a high fat diet . Both groups of mice were fed the same diet, while one group was exposed to short term air pollution while  the other breathed filtered air.  The mice exposed to short term polluted air experienced  hypothalamic inflammation, increased food intake and increased fat mass. Long term exposure (12 weeks) lead to hyperphagia, reduced energy, obesity, impaired leptin sensitivity, altered neuropeptides expression and increased inflammatory mediators. Long or short term exposure to air pollution can have serious side effects that can result in other health complications. 

There’s something in the air: Ambient particulate matter (PM10) and diabetes in Northwest China:

In Northwest China, 19,884 subjects  with a similar baseline concentration exposure to ambient PM10 were selected for a study on air pollution and diabetes. Within this group of subjects, 791 were found to be new-onset diabetics. The risk of diabetes for this group increased by 17% and this percentage continues to increase  as  the concentration of air pollution rises. Furthermore, stratified analyses suggested that the risk of developing diabetes was higher in young to middle-aged women who were over-weight or obese. 


  • “Persistent Organic Pollutants.” Diabetes and the Environment, www.diabetesandenvironment.org/home/contam/pops.
  • Deng, Y., Yan, Z., Shen, R., Wang, M., Huang, Y., Ren, H., Zhang, Y., & Lemos, B. (2020). Microplastics release phthalate esters and cause aggravated adverse effects in the mouse gut. Environment international143, 105916. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.105916
  • Mahalak, K. K., Firrman, J., Lee, J. J., Bittinger, K., Nuñez, A., Mattei, L. M., Zhang, H., Fett, B., Bobokalonov, J., Arango-Argoty, G., Zhang, L., Zhang, G., & Liu, L. S. (2020). Triclosan has a robust, yet reversible impact on human gut microbial composition in vitro. PloS one15(6), e0234046. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234046
  • Campolim, C. M., Weissmann, L., Ferreira, C., Zordão, O. P., Dornellas, A., de Castro, G., Zanotto, T. M., Boico, V. F., Quaresma, P., Lima, R., Donato, J., Jr, Veras, M. M., Saldiva, P., Kim, Y. B., & Prada, P. O. (2020). Short-term exposure to air pollution (PM2.5) induces hypothalamic inflammation, and long-term leads to leptin resistance and obesity via Tlr4/Ikbke in mice. Scientific reports10(1), 10160. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-67040-3
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