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Diesel exhaust can mutate your genes, study finds

Diesel exhaust

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(NaturalNews) Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Vancouver Coastal Health have discovered that not only can exposure to diesel exhaust give asthmatics headaches and itchy eyes, but -- more poignant to their study -- it can alter genes on a micro level. After just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust fumes, study participants exhibited changes in their genes linked to oxidative stress and inflammation.(1)

"Usually when we look at the effects of air pollution, we measure things that are clinically obvious -- air flow, blood pressure, heart rhythm," said Christopher Carlsten, a UBC respirologist and associate professor in the division of respiratory medicine. "But asthma, higher blood pressure or arrhythmia might just be the gradual accumulation of (gene) changes. So we've revealed a window into how these long-term problems arise. We're looking at changes deep under the hood."(1)

For the small study, 16 asthmatic volunteers were put in a polycarbonate-enclosed booth, breathing in diluted and aged exhaust fumes that were similar to air quality found at a busy British Columbia port or Beijing highway. Before and after blood samples were taken to allow the researchers to determine how exposure to these fumes impacted methylation, the carbon-hydrogen coating that attaches to parts of DNA. They found that inhalation of diesel exhaust fumes led to methylation changes at approximately 2,800 points on DNA which affected about 400 genes.(1,2)

Changes in diet, environment may reverse health problems caused by environmental pollution

While Carlsten, who is the senior author of the study, notes that the two hours it took for changes to take place may sound alarming to many people, the fact remains that it could prove to be beneficial. "Any time you can show something happens that quickly, it means you can probably reverse it -- either through a therapy, a change in environment, or even diet," he said.(2)

The study primarily serves to reinforce that environmental pollution can indeed produce detrimental changes in health and that steps should be taken, both long- and short-term, to address its impact.

Titled, "Short-term diesel exhaust inhalation in a controlled human crossover study is associated with changes in DNA methylation of circulating mononuclear cells in asthmatics," the study was published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology. It states:

Short-term exposure to diesel exhaust resulted in DNA methylation changes at CpG sites residing in genes involved in inflammation and oxidative stress response, repetitive elements, and microRNA. This provides plausibility for the role of DNA methylation in pathways by which airborne particulate matter impacts gene expression and offers support for including DNA methylation analysis in future efforts to understand the interactions between environmental exposures and biological systems.(3)

A look at environmental pollution in other parts of the world

Interest in environmental pollution and its impact on health is important, its severity heavily researched.

Consider that in China, for example, sulfur levels of diesel are at least 23 times those of the United States.(4)

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is continually engaging in efforts to reduce harmful emissions, including the requiring Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) to be used as highway diesel fuel by those who have engines with advanced emission control devices. As such, it's thought that hazardous emissions from such engines could decrease by over 90 percent.(5)

As for Canada, the Health Canada website notes, "Diesel engines are a major source of particle pollution: they create up to 100 times more particles than gasoline-powered engines" and that their ultra-fine particles "are able to penetrate the lung and walls of blood vessels to enter the bloodstream and affect other systems within the body, such as the cardiovascular system."(6)

As with many situations, the impact on health is often cumulative and may develop over the course of many years. This shows that taking measures to ensure better air quality sooner rather than later is critical.


(1) http://www.vancouversun.com

(2) http://news.ubc.ca

(3) http://www.particleandfibretoxicology.com

(4) http://www.nytimes.com

(5) http://www.epa.gov

(6) http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

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