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How Does Air Pollution Affect Men’s Health?

written by Skye Sherman - Oct 3, 2022
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Nov 18, 2022

Photo Credit: by Sandro Sandrone Lazzarini,
Photo Credit: by Sandro Sandrone Lazzarini,

Did you know that the air you breathe can have a major effect on your health?

You might think that’s obvious, because if you’re breathing in smoke or heavily polluted air, you will soon feel the effects of it. It will hurt your lungs and throat, and maybe even your eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. Poisoned air can even kill you, and dirty air will make you feel unwell. That much is clear to any living, breathing human being.

Believe it or not, men are especially susceptible to air quality and pollution levels. Air pollution (or lack thereof) can be a major factor in overall health, from brain health and mental decline to respiratory diseases and even sperm health.

Wondering about the air all around you and what it may be doing to your health? Everyone knows that oxygen is vital to life, but if the oxygen you’re breathing in is coming along with toxic chemicals, you may be breathing in disease and unhealthy pollutants.

Read on to learn more about how the quality of the air in your world may be affecting your overall health and wellness.

Brain Health and Mental Decline

Recent research shows that the air you breathe can play a major part in how well your brain works, believe it or not.

An article in The Guardian reports, “Temporary rises in air pollution may impair memory and thinking in older men, according to research that indicates even short-term spikes in airborne particles can be harmful to brain health. Scientists found that men’s cognitive performance fell following rises in air pollution during the month before testing, even when peak levels remained below safety thresholds for toxic air set by the World Health Organization and national regulators. The findings build on growing evidence that exposure to fine particulate matter in the air, largely from road vehicles and industry, is harmful not only to the heart and lungs, but also to delicate neural tissues in the brain.”

This means that even being temporarily exposed to toxic air can affect the functioning of your brain forever! You may want to rethink that visit to a city covered in smog or with poor air quality levels.

It’s obvious how poor air quality would affect the health of your lungs, since we all know that the lungs are the main organ involved in consuming and processing the air we breathe all day long. But fewer people would guess that the air you breathe in is affecting your brain as well.

Obviously, air pollution affects human health in major ways.

Respiratory Diseases

As you can probably guess, air pollution has a major effect on heart and lung disease as well as respiratory diseases such as emphysema.

Did you know that dirty air negatively affects children’s brain development and makes adults less productive at work? “Last year, NYU epidemiologists calculated that 1,341 deaths annually could be avoided—in Los Angeles alone—if air quality were improved to recommended health standards,” Men’s Health reports.

The article also goes on to share that air pollution kills about 7 million people a year and removes two years from the average life expectancy. As you can see, it’s a major risk to human health and wellness. The way that dirty air affects our respiratory systems is, essentially, killing people slowly.

To understand why air pollution is primarily a respiratory problem, you first have to understand exactly what air pollution is. What exactly makes dirty air? What makes air polluted or bad to breathe in?

As Men’s Health explains it, “Smog—also called ground-level ozone—is what happens when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, like those in tailpipe emissions, meet sunlight.”

This is not good for our bodies or any of our organs. The article continues, “The lesser-known danger, however, is something more ubiquitous and menacing called ‘particulate matter.’ These are small specks of grime that are so tiny they can evade your body’s natural defenses. They come from power plants and diesel generators, construction sites and foundries, your car’s internal-combustion engine and its tires on the road, wood fires, forest fires, plowed fields, grilling food—anything that produces small particles that can mingle with the hundreds of other chemicals in the air.”

The air we breathe, especially in cities and industrial areas, is full of these small particles. They get into our lungs as we breathe and contaminate our lungs and all the tiny structures that make up these delicate organs. However, it gets even worse. Some of these toxic particles are so small they can evade our lungs’ natural filters and enter straight into the bloodstream.

This is dangerous and harmful for obvious reasons! As they spread throughout your entire body through the bloodstream, they leave inflammation and a whole host of complications in their wake.

Sperm Health?

Okay, so it’s clear that air quality can affect your heart, lungs, and brain, but every human has those organs. What about men, in specific? The findings are sobering, because they indicate that there is also a way that poor air quality can affect men in particular, through something only they have.

In a report titled Men exposed to industrial air pollution exhibit sperm mitochondrial DNA deletions, scientists share their findings that “Changes in mtDNA sequences can affect mitochondrial functions that subsequently cause various complex neuromuscular, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and neurodegenerative diseases. Alterations in mtDNA can also lead to skin disorders, diabetes, cancer, and aging.”

It seems, from their study, that the mtDNA deletion rate is affected by exposure to airborne pollutants. These can include seasonal changes.

Moreover, “In sperm, mitochondria can be found surrounding the midpiece of the sperm tail. Within sperm, mitochondria have an important role in sperm motility, capacitation, hyperactivation, and acrosome reaction. Changes in sperm mtDNA and the mitochondrial membrane have been linked to male infertility.”

This all might sound complex or even over your head, but the important thing to note is that air quality is affecting you even on a cellular level. Air pollution can affect the sperm health of men and even lead to potential infertility due to changes in the sperm DNA.

But women aren’t immune, either! Findings reported by HealthShots confirm, “The toxic particles can harm reproductive and cardiovascular health. Not only this, it can affect the endocrine system, causing hormonal disorders. Bad air quality can also impact on the mental health of women in the long run.”

Just like men are affected in specific ways, women can be negatively impacted by bad air, too. Pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages are just two examples. The article goes on to share that some of the impacts of air pollution on both men and women can include cancer, hormonal disorders, a rise in suicide rates and other mental health issues, cardiovascular diseases, and more.

Best Ways to Avoid Air Pollution

Wondering how to avoid air pollution? One of the main ways you can help is to move away from congested, polluted areas such as densely populated urban centers. Some studies have shown that the lungs of non-smoking city dwellers are so polluted that they resemble the lungs of smokers! That is just from breathing the air around them in their polluted cities.

The Journal of Thoracic Disease recommends, “Personal exposure to ambient air pollution can be reduced on high air pollution days by staying indoors, reducing outdoor air infiltration to indoors, cleaning indoor air with air filters, and limiting physical exertion, especially outdoors and near air pollution sources. Limited evidence suggests that the use of respirators may be effective in some circumstances. … Avoiding exposure to air pollutants is especially important for susceptible individuals with chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, children, and the elderly.”

Other measures you can take include avoiding working out outside during rush hour, keeping away from major roads if at all possible, upgrading your home’s HVAC system so you can be confident the air inside your home is cleaner (even pets can be affected by poor air!), and perhaps even purchasing a personal air monitor to be aware of the levels of air pollution around you.

If you still must live in a city, take the side streets or move to a less crowded part of town. Whatever you can do to reduce your exposure can make a world of difference in your overall health and wellness. It is recommended to wear masks when air pollution is especially bad, such as when cities are battling the effects of climate change or when a natural disaster such as a wildfire or volcanic eruption has occurred.



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