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Human life depends on oxygen for survival. But, sometimes the air we breathe can be harmful to our health thanks to air pollutants.
While most associate air pollution with outside air, indoor air also contains air pollutants. People spend about 90% of their time indoors according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where air pollutant concentrations can be higher than outdoor concentrations. Basically, air pollutants are everywhere.
In this article, we are going to take a closer look at air pollution and its effect on your thyroid. Let’s start with learning the basics of a medical condition called hypothyroidism.
There is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the bottom of your neck. This gland, called your thyroid gland, releases thyroid hormone when stimulated by another hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone.
Once released into your bloodstream, thyroid hormone travels to your cells where it helps with:
- Heart function
- Growth and development
- Regulating your metabolism
All your cells need thyroid hormone to function correctly. But, an underactive thyroid gland can cause hypothyroidism, a deficiency in thyroid hormone. When you have thyroid hormone levels as seen in hypothyroidism, your body functions slow down leading to:
- Changes in mood and memory
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin
- Muscle weakness
- Weight gain
As mentioned above, both indoor and outdoor air contains air pollutants. Air pollutants enter your body through your respiratory system where they dissolve into your bloodstream. Once there, they can trigger:
- Genetic changes to your cells
- Oxidative stress
- Weakening of your immune system (immunosuppression)
You don’t need long-term exposure to air pollutants to experience adverse effects on your health. Short-term exposure can be just as harmful.
Sources of indoor air pollution
The majority of indoor air pollution comes from sources within a building, but they can enter from the outside through an open vent, window, or door. Indoor air pollution can result from:
- Building materials or furnishings
- Fuel-burning combustion appliances
- Fumes from cleaning supplies, paints, or insecticides
- Synthetic fragrances and artificial fragrances
- Heating and cooling systems
- Natural origins like radon, mold, pet dander, or pollen
- Tobacco smoke
Believe it or not, your gut is a good indicator of your overall health. Your gut microbiota consists of bacteria and other microbes that under normal conditions are beneficial to your body. But changes in your gut microbiota can cause several health issues including problems with thyroid function.
A healthy gut microbiota absorbs nutrients such as iron, zinc, and selenium from the foods you eat. These nutrients along with others are essential for making thyroid hormone. Changes to your gut microbiota reduce the amount of nutrients absorbed, affecting thyroid hormone production.
Your gut microbiota forms a tight barrier, preventing toxins like air pollutants from entering your body. But as air pollutants change your microbiota, it becomes easier for toxins to enter your body. These toxins can disrupt the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This axis controls how much thyroid hormone gets released.
Triggering an inflammatory response
Air pollution may also trigger an inflammatory response, putting your immune system into overdrive. As a result, your immune system starts attacking healthy cells including ones in your thyroid gland, causing Hashimoto’s, aggravating autoimmune conditions, or triggering a flare-up in those with Hashimoto’s.
While we have little control over the air outside, you do have some control over your indoor air. The most effective way of improving your indoor air is through air filtration.
Air filtration helps to reduce or remove most air pollutants. Not only can this improve your overall health, but may also help prevent Hashimoto’s flare-ups.
There are many ways to filter your indoor air like portable air cleaners or upgrading the filtration on your heating and cooling system. Likewise, there are different types of filters available such as:
- High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters remove up to 99.97% of airborne particles. But they don’t remove gasses or volatile organic compounds (VOC) from the air.
- Carbon filters remove odors associated with VOC but won’t remove particles from the air.
You should know that indoor air filters won’t fix the underlying cause of indoor air pollution. For instance, if you have mold in the home, filtration may reduce mold particles. But they won’t address what is causing the mold. Controlling the source of the air pollutant is as important as air filtration.
While you can’t have complete control over the air you breathe, you can control the triggers of Hashimoto’s flare-ups. Working with a Paloma nutritionist can help you discover foods that cause inflammation in your gut similar to how air pollutants do. By knowing food triggers, you are taking a step towards preventing Hashimoto’s flare-ups and improving your health.
You can also focus on optimal thyroid health with ongoing thyroid care from one of Paloma's top thyroid practitioners. You can learn more about our network of doctors here.