The Role Environment Plays in Everyday Life

The environment around you impacts your mental, physical, and emotional well-being in more ways than you may think. It can affect your natural sleep rhythms, how much water or air you need, the temperature that feels comfortable, and even your ability to find healthy food. And while it’s a topic often spoken about by environmentally conscious people, there is also significant research showing how a person’s surroundings can have an unnoticeable but powerful impact on their health. Environmental toxins can cause:

1. Fatigue

The World Health Organization recommends that the indoor air you breathe is cleaned to have a carbon dioxide level of less than 1000 ppm. In most homes, office buildings, and other indoor environments, carbon dioxide levels can reach as high as 5000 ppm, causing fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. While it might be tough to convince your landlord or workplace to install an air purifier or allow you to open windows more often, you can do some simple things to raise the oxygen levels around you.

2. Insomnia

Indoor air pollutants such as radon, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds can cause frequent and ongoing insomnia. These pollutants act as sedatives, disrupting your natural sleep rhythms and the ability to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. It’s important to note that the air quality in your home is often much worse than that outdoors. A three-hour walk outside can improve your carbon dioxide levels by over 1000 ppm, which can often be enough to make a significant difference in the quality of sleep and level of fatigue.

3. Hormonal Disruption

Oxygen and carbon dioxide act as potent hormones that affect blood sugar levels, impacting how we feel and fuel our bodies. Hormone disruption from poor indoor air quality can create symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue and frustration to environmental intolerance, allergies, and autoimmune diseases. In extreme cases, it can cause symptoms such as infertility, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Hormone replacement therapy is the treatment for hormonal imbalance. Despite the evidence that hormone replacement therapy works, many myths can cause women to avoid regular treatment. Does HRT weaken the immune system? Some believe hormone replacement will damage their immune system, and others think it will increase their risk of breast cancer. However, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

4. Mood Swings

A small study at the University of Texas found that women who live within 100 meters of a freeway or a major road have an increased risk of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer, suggesting a possible link between urban pollution and hormonal disruption. Another study in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that those exposed to high nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels could be at risk for depression and anxiety. The World Health Organization declared air pollution the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

5. Headaches

Headaches resulting from poor-quality air quality can be annoying and painful, but there is actual evidence that these headaches could be caused by air pollution. Teenagers exposed to higher levels of nitrogen dioxide were more likely to report headaches that lasted more than 30 days compared to those exposed to lower levels. The symptoms are also similar to those in asthmatics; itchy eyes, wheezing, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

6. Weight Gain

Not only can air pollution cause you to feel more tired and frustrated, but it can also cause you to gain weight. Higher levels of nitrogen dioxide have been linked to increased concentrations in the body which may lead to higher levels of cortisol circulating in the blood, suppressing muscle strength and metabolism. Most importantly, it can discourage you from exercising and cause you to gain weight. While you can’t control pollution levels in your neighborhood, you can use air purifiers, exercise more and eat healthier.

7. Brain Fog

Like fatigue, headaches, and weight gain, air pollution can also cause you to feel mentally foggy. Long-term exposure can significantly affect your cognitive and memory functions, which is why it’s important to opt for an indoor environment that will promote mental clarity. Researchers at the University of Southern California studied the effects of nitrogen dioxide on people working in a cubicle farm environment. They found that those exposed to higher levels of NO2 scored lower on tests measuring their ability to learn new information and stay focused.

8. Cancer

Our waterways and soil can contain various carcinogens, including solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons. Indoor air pollution is found in many of the air conditioning systems in homes across Canada. Many of these contaminants are known to be toxic to humans at exposure levels below regulatory limits. For example, benzene levels measured indoors by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) exceeded regulations for occupational exposure by over 100 times. The World Health Organization attributes approximately 7 million premature deaths yearly to air pollution worldwide.

9. Lungs Diseases

According to the American Lung Association, indoor air pollution is a leading cause of lung diseases in the United States. Allergens, chemicals, and soot found in homes and offices can cause a weakened immune system and illnesses like asthma. When you breathe polluted air at home or work, your body may be exposed to viruses, bacteria, fungi, and molds. This can cause mild respiratory symptoms such as a scratchy throat or cough and more serious conditions including bronchitis, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and even SIDS.) To minimize the risk of respiratory tract infections and diseases related to polluted indoor air, ensure adequate ventilation in your home and workplace.

For most people, improving their ventilation systems is the best way to protect themselves from indoor pollutants. Open your windows at night and buy a good quality air cleaner for your home. You can improve your home’s indoor air quality by installing a whole-house fan and adding an air purifier. You can also try new technologies, such as electrostatic dustbusters, low-energy ionizers, and ion exchange technologies.