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Microplastics found as microbeads within cleaning, beauty and dental products are so small they cannot be sived out through water plants and these tiny particles often end up in the sea. Microplasics are one type of pollution that we come across in everyday life, we can’t always see them, just like many types of air pollution. These pollutants are present throughout the marine environment and ingestion of these plastic particles (<1 mm) has been demonstrated in a laboratory setting for a wide array of marine organisms. Like plastics of any size, they look like food, but end up clogging up the insides of the animal, leading to starvation.

A study published 5 years ago investigated the presence of microplastics in two species of commercially grown shellfish: Mytilus edulis (blue mussel) and Crassostrea gigas (pacific oyster). Microplastics were recovered from the soft tissues of both species. At time of human consumption, M. edulis contained on average 0.36g plastic, while a plastic load of 0.47g was detected in C. gigas.

As a result, the annual dietary exposure for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 microplastics per year. What is the effect of this pollution on our bodies? The presence of marine microplastics in seafood could pose a threat to food safety, however, due to the complexity of estimating microplastic toxicity, estimations of the potential risks for human health posed by microplastics in food stuffs is not yet possible.

Microbeads will eventually be banned, however it will take generations to leave the seas. In the meantime do we avoid shellfish and fish, and all the other pollutants they contain, like heavy metals? Or do we protect our bodies from these pollutants with a diet high in antioxidants compounds which can help prevent oxidative damage to our insides?

Photo by Moe Deerwood on Unsplash

Studies have identified an association between daily changes in concentration of outdoor air pollution and daily number of deaths and hospitalisations, particularly from cardiovascular disease and following relatively short time after exposure.

It has been suggested that traffic-derived particles, of which diesel exhaust particles are major contributor, are the most toxic component. Diesel exhaust particles have been associated with increased risk of cardiopulmonary diseases. We know that even inhaling diesel exhaust fumes once e.g whilst out walking, or jogging traffic, causes lung inflammation and changes in blood clotting.

We’ve known about the potential health hazard for a while now, a study in 2012 looked at repeated exposure effects and the protective effects of curcumin. Mice were exposed with repeated doses of DEP (15 µg/animal) every 2nd day for 6 days (a total of 4 exposures), and measured several heart and lung functions 48 h after the end of the treatments. The effect of curcumin (the yellow pigment isolated from turmeric) on DEP-induced cardiopulmonary toxicity was also assessed.

Diesel exhaust particle exposure increased white blood cell numbers, tumour necrosis factor α (TNF α) in lung fluid, and enhanced airway resistance. It also increase signals of stress and systolic blood pressure. When mice were given curcumin (45 mg/kg) 1 h before exposure, it significantly prevented the effects listed above mainly through use of its anti-inflammatory ability.

Studies such as this suggest we need more research on using curcumin and other supplements in populations exposed to air pollution. Curcumin is already a popular supplement, and it looks like it can add another string to its bow in regards to pollution.


Nemmar A, Subramaniyan D, Ali BH. Protective effect of curcumin on pulmonary and cardiovascular effects induced by repeated exposure to diesel exhaust particles in mice. PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39554. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039554. Epub 2012 Jun 22.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Statistics show that 1.25 million deaths are caused by road traffic accidents per year, 3.5 million are caused by diabetes, and 7 MILLION are the consequence of air pollution.  (Reference, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.)




Environmental pollutants are a global health problem, associated with the development of many chronic diseases. Exposure to pollutants may increase our chances of serious illness, thanks to the effects of pollutants on the parts of our cells linked with inflammation, cardiac injury and oxidative damage.

There is a growing body of evidence based research to show that the food we eat can both positively and negatively influence the toxic effects of pollutants on our health. Recent studies suggest that nutrients like EGCG in green tea can protect against the inflammation caused by pollutants. Increasing our intake of antioxidants, such as vitamin E, and polyunsaturated fats, like Omega 3 oils, may help manage chronic conditions like asthma. This is especially important if you live in a high-risk area and eat a lot of processed foods.

For those of us who live and exercise in polluted cities, or eat fish products from polluted seas and rivers, specific nutrients to help combat this damage could have real benefits. ‘Personalised nutrition’ is on the horizon, and pollution exposure will soon form part of lifestyle assessments. You can start to personalise your own nutrition now by changing your diet to help fight the effects of pollution.


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