Understanding The 5 Environmental Factors that Contribute to Inflammation
Last month, we began our Inflammation Series on the Cryo Recovery blog. In our first blog post, we discussed the impact that chronic inflammation has on the human body, along with the role that inflammation plays in nearly every known disease. Because inflammation is tied to disease, dysfunction, and premature aging, it is imperative that we control the variables that we are capable of managing.
As discussed in last month’s post, there are six major categories that contribute to systemic inflammation. These categories include: environment, diet, relationships, structural problems, stress, and toxins. In this blog post, we are taking a deeper look at environment, along with the ways under which we are able to alter our environment in order to reduce the inflammatory impact on our bodies. Environment is a unique category, mainly because it includes experiences and aspects that exist beyond our minds, bodies, and interpersonal relationships with others. Major factors that contribute to our environment include:
· Air Quality
· Water Quality
· Lighting and Views
· Sleeping Conditions
· Time in Nature
Humans spend up to 90% of their time in offices, schools, and residences, and since inhalation exposure is continuous, our largest exposure to pollutants predominantly occurs indoors. When our indoor air quality is poor, occupants are susceptible to building-related illnesses, some of which include: asthma, fatigue, nasal and respiratory irritation, and headaches.
Because we spend most our time indoors, it is important to be mindful and choose building supplies, furnishings, and materials with low chemical emissions. This limits sources of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds. Types of indoor pollutants include: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ozone, particulate matter (PM), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including: formaldehyde, limonene, and benzene.
Pollutants may also come from pest and rodenticides, cleaning supplies, personal care products, paint, pollen, and fungal spores. Check for legacy pollutants such as lead, PCBs and asbestos in your living environment, and limit vapor intrusion by using a vapor barrier. In order to mitigate odor issues, maintain humidity levels between 30-60%. You can also conduct an annual air quality screening, and once you receive your test results, respond and evaluate air quality concerns accordingly.
Top Suggestions for Managing Indoor Air Quality:
· Ensure that you are reading the labels of paints, cleaning supplies, makeup, air fresheners, and personal care products.
· Limit fire retardant exposure that is often found in schools.
· Purchase Eco-Friendly mattresses with low VOCs.
· Install additional air filtrations systems.
· Select paints used indoors with low VOCs.
· Monitor and control mold spores.
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Water is essential for life, but ensuring that we have clean, quality water is just as important as water consumption itself. Across the globe, certain bacteria contaminants in the water supply can lead to serious complications; however, in the United States, microbial contaminants are not the leading concern to our water supply. The recent discovery of lead pollution in the water supply in Flint, Michigan has brought on another concern that is more relevant to the United States. Due to the aging infrastructure of pipes and mains, the water supply is contaminated with heavy metals that are toxic to the human system. A 2013 assessment by the American Civil Society of Engineers found America’s water infrastructure to be in “poor to fair condition” and “mostly below standard with strong risk of failure”.
Another major contributor to our contaminated drinking water supply is the inability of municipal systems to filter pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and fertilizers out of the water. Most municipal systems are run on a parts per million (PPM) allowance for chemicals that have not been adequately tested for optimal health. Also, the use of glyphosate (also known as Round Up), has exploded within our agriculture system. Glyphosate has been in the limelight recently after a major case in California ruled that Dewayne Johnson, a Bay Area school groundskeeper, would be awarded $289 million after being diagnosed with cancer that was linked to Round Up. In addition to the carcinogenic effects of glyphosate, the chemical compound also harms gut bacteria, and can prevent our bodies from getting the nutrients that they need to function optimally.
Top Suggestions for managing water quality:
· Install and use a water filtration system.
· Limit fertilizer and insecticide use
· Eliminate use of glyphosate
· Have your water tested.
· Buy water from a trusted source; preferably not disposable plastic bottles. Instead, use reusable glass containers, mason jars, etc.
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Lighting & Views
Our eyes are the cameras of our bodies. In addition to allowing us to see things, our eyes also provide depth perception, contribute to our body’s ability to balance, and interpret different kinds of light. Proper light and timing help to regulate the circadian rhythm, or our human body clock. When it’s dark at night, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s time to feel tired. Your brain then sends a signal to your body to release melatonin, which makes you feel tired. When our body’s circadian rhythm is affected by improper light, our sleep can be interrupted, leading to learning and memory impairment.
In today’s urban environment, it can be especially difficult to have access to views of natural light and green landscapes, as they are often blocked by buildings and manmade structures. In fact, research has shown that students who learn in classrooms with windows looking out to green landscapes recover from stress and mental fatigue faster than students with windows looking to other buildings and facades.
Another important topic concerning lighting in our modern environment is blue light exposure. Blue lights mimic the sun; therefore, when you are trying to wind down and get ready for bed, exposure to blue light from smart phones, tablets, and TVs trick your body into thinking that it is daytime, and suppress your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone needed for sleep, and suppression of natural melatonin sources leads to insomnia. Studies have further shown that blue light exposure can be tied to macular degeneration, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. If you are interested in learning more about the effects of blue light on the body, check out this article from Harvard Health.
Top Suggestions for managing lighting and views:
· Ensure that occupying spaces have natural views, and access to natural light.
· Try to work in or within eyeshot of green landscapes.
· Protect your exposure to blue light--especially in the evenings.
· When the sun goes down, get off of all smart devices and sources of blue light.
· Wear blue light blocking glasses in the evening.
· Ensure sleeping areas are as dark as possible.
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We all know that there is no greater feeling that waking up rested and ready to take on the day. A good night’s rest allows us to be productive, more present, and live healthier lives. Despite knowing that sleep is conducive to good health, we are constantly hearing that pesky saying, “you can sleep when you’re dead!” The big problem here is that sleep deprivation can contribute to stress, chronic illnesses, and early mortality, and getting adequate sleep can add years to your life! In recent research, it has been statistically shown that longevity and health are associated with regular and consistent slow wave sleep.
When you really think about it, there are many things we can do in order to improve our health. Nutrition and exercise are both great examples of tangible ways to improve health; however, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, these healthy lifestyle habits will not take hold. This why we believe that sleep hygiene is one of, if not the most, important thing we can do for our health. In order to have good sleep hygiene, you must have good sleeping environment.
Top Suggestions for maintaining good sleep environments:
· Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet.
· Use your bed for sleep and only sleep. Don’t eat, study, or work from your bed.
· Track your sleep with health trackers or apps on your phone.
· Take a hot bath or sauna session before bed.
· Journal before sleeping.
· Stick to a schedule.
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Time In Nature
Have you ever wondered why people get sick in the winter more than in the summer? A lot of Wives’ Tales have described the cold temperatures as the culprit for why we get sick; however, the uptick of reported viruses during the winter months is largely due to the ability of sickness to spread more, because of the dramatic increase in the amount of time that we spend indoors, along with being in closer proximity to those around you. Bottom line: our immune systems thrive OUTDOORS.
Our microbiomes are directly connected to our immune system, and having a gut microbiome that is diverse and heavily connected to nature is associated with better immune system functioning and lower levels of inflammation. Research is now able to connect the microbiome with the inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
One of the best ways to improve your gut microbiome is to simply get outside and experience different environments. Expose yourself to the beach and breathe the salty air, then go to a forest to play in the dirt. For good measure, explore a swampy, damp area, and the microbiome will take on so many new forms of bacteria that it will provide robust and diverse gut bacteria, creating an environment under which your immune system will thrive.