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The unborn baby: Healthy pregnant mothers exposed to air pollution from road traffic inhale toxic particles that may end up in the placenta
Sep28

The unborn baby: Healthy pregnant mothers exposed to air pollution from road traffic inhale toxic particles that may end up in the placenta

By Roberta Attanasio According to a recently published study, carbon and metal particles from road traffic, once inhaled, reach one of the many places where we would rather not find them—the unborn baby’s life support system, best known as placenta. Lead author Jonathan Grigg said: “Our study for the first time shows that inhaled carbon particulate matter in air pollution, travels in the blood stream, and is taken up by important cells in the placenta.” For the study, researchers analyzed placentas from 15 healthy non-smoking women, donated after the birth of their children. All women delivered healthy babies. However, they lived in an environment that exposed them to high levels of particulate matter originating from urban traffic. Indeed, the particles observed in the placental cells closely resemble—in size, shape and composition—those emitted by traffic-related sources or formed from them.   Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash Particulate matter (also called particle pollution) is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air, which come in many sizes and shapes and are made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope. Some particles are emitted by construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires, but most form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles. The researchers found—within the placental cells—not only carbon particles, but also particles containing carbon with a mixture of chemicals found in vehicle exhaust, such as iron, phosphorus, calcium, silica, aluminum, titanium, chromium, and cerium, which arise from fuel and oil additives. How did these particles get into the placental cells? Particles present in air pollution are inhaled, and then from the lungs translocate to distant organs through the blood stream. Macrophages and trophoblasts— the primary resident phagocytes in the placenta—pick them up. Phagocytes are cells of the innate immune system also known as the “big eaters”—they engulf the particles with the aim of “cleaning up” the placenta. Lisa Miyashita, a study co-author, said: “We have thought for a while that maternal inhalation could potentially result in pollution particles traveling to the placenta once inhaled. However, there are many defense mechanisms in the lung that prevent foreign particles from traveling elsewhere, so it was surprising to identify these particles in the placental cells from all 15 of our participants.” Why is it worrisome to find particulate matter in placental cells? “The placenta is a distinctive and...

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What is regenerative leadership?
Sep14

What is regenerative leadership?

By Roberta Attanasio The world is up for re-invention—complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty call for innovative models of leadership. We’re all here to be leaders, we all need to embrace new aspects of leadership, and we all need to step into unique roles that allow our gifts and talents to shine while contributing to a life-honoring present and future. Shared leadership and purpose-driven leadership provide up-to-date paradigms aligned with current needs, which are shaped—among others—by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and civil unrest. Photo by Qingbao Meng on Unsplash Shared leadership is group-based. It empowers group members by giving them leadership responsibilities—individuals within a group lead each other to achieve successful outcomes. Think in these terms: two compatible heads are better than one, three compatible heads are better than two, and so on. In the Preface of their book “Shared Leadership: Reframing the hows and whys of leadership”, authors Craig Pearce and Jay Conger state: “Leadership is therefore not determined by positions of authority but rather by an individual’s capacity to influence peers and by the needs of the team in any given moment. In addition, each member of the team brings unique perspectives, knowledge, and capabilities to the team. At different junctures in the teams’ life, there are moments when these differing backgrounds characteristics provide a platform for leadership to be distributed among the team.” Purpose-driven leadership is a form of shared leadership based on the “why” and on the idea of shared purpose, as a contribution we want to make to our community or to the world, for example by solving a social and/or environmental issue. Here, the leaders’ driving force is the desire to solve a specific problem so to serve the greater good. Regenerative leadership is not only purpose-driven, but also focuses on solutions that aim to a future where organizations flourish, ecosystems thrive and people come alive. In their book “Regenerative Leadership: The DNA of life-affirming 21st century organisations”, authors Giles Hutchins & Laura Storm write: “Regenerative Leadership is not yet another leadership approach that applies the very same mechanistic logic that caused our problems in the first place in seeking solutions to these problems. No, this Regenerative Leadership approach deals with today’s landscape systemically. The epic challenges we face demand a wholly new way quite different from the level of thinking traditional leadership approaches have applied.” A new leadership logic must embrace the understanding of the parts and the way they interplay—“Underpinning the ability for the leader to embrace both is the re-connection and re-integration of left and right hemisphere, inner and outer, masculine and feminine, human and nature.” They cite Peter Drucker: “In times...

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Allergies in Young Children: Effects of Exposure to Multiple Air Pollutants During Prenatal and Early Life
Dec10

Allergies in Young Children: Effects of Exposure to Multiple Air Pollutants During Prenatal and Early Life

By Roberta Attanasio The frequency of allergies in children keeps rising rapidly worldwide, but it’s not clear why. However, it is acknowledged that developing even one type of allergy early in life is almost like turning on a switch—it can start children on a path to more. “The progression of skin allergies to asthma and allergic rhinitis is called the allergic or atopic march. Atopic dermatitis is an itchy, inflammatory skin allergy that, before 1960, affected fewer than 3% of children; by the 2000s it had increased to around 20%. A child with atopic dermatitis is more likely to develop other allergic conditions or symptoms. For example, about 70% of people with severe atopic dermatitis have asthma, whereas in those without atopic dermatitis, only about 8% have asthma—a nearly 9-fold difference.” According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, atopy refers to the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and atopic dermatitis (eczema). Atopy is typically associated with heightened immune responses, more specifically with excessive IgE production in response to common allergens, especially inhaled allergens and food allergens. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash Atopicn diseases (eczema, asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis) are clinical syndromes each defined by a group of symptoms and signs. Not all children with atopy will have atopic disease or develop symptoms after exposure to an allergen. Both genetic and environmental factors determine the development of atopic disease. Now, results from a new study show that there is a significant association between multiple prenatal and early life exposures to indoor pollutants and the degree of allergic sensitivity in 2 year old children. Now, results from a new study show that there is a significant association between multiple prenatal and early life exposures to indoor pollutants and the degree of allergic sensitivity in 2 year old children. For the study, researchers followed 108 mother-child pairs from birth to 2 years of age. They obtained data on the exposure to air fresheners, candles, mold, cats, dogs, carpet and environmental tobacco smoke during the prenatal, 6-month, 1-year, and 2-year timepoints. Then, they performed a skin prick test on both the mother and the 2-year-old child. A skin prick test, also called a puncture or scratch test, checks for immediate allergic reactions to as many as 40 different substances at once. This test is usually done to identify allergies to pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites and foods. In adults, the test is usually done on the forearm, whereas children may be tested on the upper back. The researchers found that exposure to candles during the prenatal window, cats during the 6 month window, and environmental tobacco smoke at 2 years significantly increased the risk of a positive...

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Environmental Toxins and Damage to the Immune System: Transgenerational Effects
Dec05

Environmental Toxins and Damage to the Immune System: Transgenerational Effects

By Roberta Attanasio The hypothesis of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), also called “Barker’s hypothesis”, was formulated a few decades ago and stimulated interest in the fetal origins of adult disorders. Subsequent research by Mohan Manikkam and Michael Skinner helped establish the principle of transgenerational toxicity by showing that the effects of toxic chemicals can extend even to the third generation of offspring. Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash Indeed, it is now clear that early life development is a critical and unique window of vulnerability during which environmental exposures influence cellular programming in ways that shape health and disease later in life. While most research on the transgenerational effects of environmental chemicals focuses on the reproductive, nervous, or endocrine systems, results from a recently published study show that environmental toxins may also impair the immune system. Paige Lawrence, senior author of the study, said in a press release: “The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a touchstone for many aspects of human health. But in terms of the body’s ability to fights off infections, this study suggests that, to a certain extent, you may also be what your great-grandmother ate.” To carry out the study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to dioxin, a common by-product of industrial production and waste incineration which is also found in some consumer products. Thus, dioxins are environmental pollutants. They belong to the so-called “dirty dozen”—a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Dioxins are of concern because of their highly toxic potential. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher an animal is in the food chain, the higher the concentration of dioxins. Therefore, dioxins are found in greater concentrations in animal-based food products. Once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be 7 to 11 years.  After exposing pregnant mothers to dioxin, they assessed the production and function of cytotoxic T cells in the offspring. To do so, they infected the mice with influenza A virus, and found that exposure of the pregnant mothers to dioxin resulted in an impaired cytotoxic T cell response of the offspring against the influenza A virus. The impaired cytotoxic T cell response was observed not only in the offspring of the mice whose mothers where exposed to dioxin, but also in subsequent generations, up to the rodent equivalent of great-grandchildren.   Lawrence said: “When you are infected or receive a flu vaccine, the immune system ramps up production of...

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Childhood Asthma and Traffic-Related Air Pollution
Oct15

Childhood Asthma and Traffic-Related Air Pollution

By Roberta Attanasio “I explain it to people like you are breathing through a coffee stirrer straw, and you just can’t get enough breath. The attacks can happen so quickly and out of nowhere, so I feel like I’m really not in control of my own body. Not being able to breathe in and out the way my body is designed to do is quite scary” says one of the 19 million adults who currently have asthma in the US. Asthma is a chronic disorder that causes swelling and inflammation in the lungs—the airways narrow and produce extra mucus, making breathing difficult and causing coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound made while breathing. Asthma attacks, in absence of appropriate treatment, can be life-threatening. Exposure to various irritants and substances that trigger allergies—as for example pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, smoke and certain medications—can also trigger signs and symptoms of asthma. However, asthma triggers are different from person to person. Photo by Laith Abdulkareem on Unsplash According to the National Center for Health Statistics, asthma also affects 6.2 million children in the US. Indeed, childhood asthma is the most common serious chronic disease in infants and children. Alarmingly, asthma is now the most commonly reported non-communicable disease among children worldwide. Children are especially vulnerable to air pollution, one of the major triggers of asthma attacks. Research indicates that air pollutants suppress genes that regulate the immune system’s ability to differentiate harmless substances from dangerous viruses or bacteria. The immune system then sets up an inflammatory response which leads to asthma. Notably, results from a recent study show that millions of children worldwide develop asthma annually due to a specific type of pollution—traffic-related air pollution. The study, based on data from 2010 to 2015, focuses on a particular type of traffic-related pollutant—nitrogen dioxide, or NO2—and estimates that 64 percent of these new cases of asthma occur in urban areas. NO2 is one of a group of gases called nitrogen oxides. While all of these gases are harmful to human health and the environment, NO2 is of greater concern. It forms from emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and off-road equipment, and irritates airways in the human respiratory system. For the study, researchers used a method that takes into account high NO2 exposures occurring near busy roads. They were then able to estimate the number of new pediatric asthma cases attributable to NO2 pollution in 194 countries and 125 major cities worldwide. Of the 125 major cities, the highest traffic-related air pollution effects on asthma were found in Lima, Peru; Shanghai, China: Bogota, Colombia; Beijing,...

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