To combat climate change and improve health we know what and how to do, now we must act. An international team of recreaters who has just published reminds us of this, listing the causes, effects and solutions of the climate issue a surgery on Frontiers in Science. This is the main article of a collection of interventions (also in simplified version for children and teenagers aged 8 to 15) which is also a call to action quickly.

For a dollar more

Climate change, pollution and the loss of biodiversity, say the researchers who signed the work, are damaging our immune system, with an impact on the number of cases of immune-mediated diseases such as asthma and oncological diseases. Consequently, protecting yourself by implementing adaptation and mitigation measures could have a substantial return, also in terms of money: it is estimated that one dollar spent on mitigating climate change saves 3 dollars on healthcare spending for the treatment of these diseases .

In Italy 80 thousand deaths per year from air pollution

What are we talking about

Immune-mediated diseases affect different areas of our body, there are many but they are all characterized by an anomalous activity of immune cells, and range from asthma to digestive system pathologies, up to tumors. In 2017, was estimated that 14% of total lung cancers could be attributed to air pollution. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that exposure to PM2.5 is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, finally the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified theoutdoor air pollution as a group 1 carcinogen.

But let’s go back to the article above Frontiers in Science.

How climate change affects our health

How do climate changes and their effects on the planet – such as extreme weather events and the loss of biodiversity for example – contribute to the development or worsening of diseases related to the immune system? In other words, how does our compromised climate increase and worsen conditions such as asthma, allergies and much more? Scientists have identified and listed several answers:

  • Through an increase in the quantity of pollen and their ability to stimulate the immune response, as well as in the length of the season due to increased temperatures and CO levels2.
  • With air pollution due to fires (…) which are becoming increasingly frequent and intense due to climate change
  • With an increase in household mold, caused by floods and extreme rainfall
  • Due to heat stress during heat waves
  • Due to reduced exposure to natural environments due to the loss of biodiversity.

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“Moreover – said the authors – pollutants, allergens and other environmental factors increase the risks of breaking the skin and mucosal barrier and of microbial dysbiosis, while a loss of biodiversity and a reduced exposure to different microbes compromise the development of good tolerogenicity (the ability to develop protective antigensed).

Access to food

Climate change can compromise access to food, clean water and safe housing. Heat waves can affect health outcomes indirectly: by disrupting electricity, water and transportation. And directly: exacerbating other health problems such as cardiovascular disease and mental well-being.

“The increase in emissions of pollutants has substantially changed the environment,” he said Ioana Agache, full professor of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of Transylvania in Brasov, Romania and co-president of the Guidelines on Allergy and the Environment of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EaacI). “From an evolutionary perspective, the immune system constantly shapes itself to respond to environmental stimuli, that is, to adapt, and thus keep us healthy – explained Agache, the first author of the publication we are talking about -. But recent changes have been too rapid so that our defense system could adapt adequately.”

Respiratory allergies, by 2030 40% of Italians will have them all year round

by the Salute editorial staff

Natural disasters

Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters, with significant secondary impacts on human health. As the mercury column rises, the risk of fires also increases, which release particulate matter and other pollutants capable of spreading for hundreds of kilometers and persisting for a long time, also contributing to immune dysregulation.

“As a doctor and scientist, I have seen firsthand how air pollution from wildfires worsens respiratory health,” he said Kari Nadeau, head of the Department of Environment and Health at Harvard’s School of Public Health and professor of Climate and Population Studies. “And I have also seen – added Nadeau, who is co-senior author of the article – the impact on allergies and asthma of the lengthening of the pollen season and the increase in the allergenicity of pollen”, that is, the ability which trigger an abnormal immune response and an allergic reaction.

Particulate matter: what are the damages of pollution to human health

Inequalities: the threat is global but someone pays more

Poor diets, lack of access to natural green environments, unsafe, healthy and clean housing increase the risk of developing immune-mediated diseases. Which means that even within the same societies and populations, those who pay the highest price for pollution, altered climate and loss of biodiversity are the most vulnerable people, the poorest or individuals with pre-existing pathologies.

Adaptation, mitigation

To mitigate the extent of the environmental threat to health, scientists believe that two paths must be pursued in parallel: adaptation and mitigation. Mitigation strategies aim to stop or slow climate change and related risks and include: reducing greenhouse gas emissions improving air quality increasing biodiversity. Adaptation strategies, on the other hand, aim to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. And they include: providing safe housing that reduces exposure to air pollution and mold, ensuring food safety, access to healthy foods to reduce inflammation, and supporting the development of a healthy immune system and microbiome, improve access to nature and green spaces.

…and the data!

But to outline effective strategies that inform appropriate policy decisions to reduce the impact of climate change on immune health and disease, you need data, lots of data, and good data. In this regard Agache and his colleagues focus on three approaches:

  • Analysis of big data, artificial intelligence and other data science methods to clarify the complex relationship between the immune system and climate change risks
  • Biomarkers that allow us to monitor exposure to air pollution and other environmental risks
  • New economic models to quantify both the damage already caused by the climate crisis and the benefits expected from mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The planet and us

“It’s clear that planetary health and human health are interconnected,” Nadeau said. “I hope – he added and concluded – that by sharing current knowledge on how our actions affect human and planetary health, and on some of the actions we can implement to adapt to and mitigate these changes, we will be able to give individual citizens and organizations local, national and international opportunities to work for a better future”.

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