Being fat is not a compliment in the Bible. According to a verse in Deuteronomy in which the Children of Israel became satisfied – at least figuratively corpulent – apathetic to spirituality and morals – rebelling against their faith in God.
Now, researchers at Soroka University Medical Center and Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba have found a link between the environmental danger of air pollution and human fat cells. The research by a team at the hospital and two in the university won first prize at the Fourth International Congress on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology, the world’s leading conference on pollution in the environment, which recently took place in Portugal.
Particulate matter and other waste products in the air, water, soil or food can penetrate the human body through the skin, during swallowing and while inhaling.
Many studies have shown a significant association between exposure to air pollution and diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but the mechanisms in which these contaminants contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease are still being researched.
In the first study of its kind in the world, conducted under the auspices of Prof. Victor Novak, director of Soroka’s Center for Clinical Research; Prof. Asaf Rudich of the biochemistry department and Prof. Itai Klug of the geography department at BGU, the effects of air pollution on cells from the fat layer just below the skin and the lining of the abdominal cavity were examined.
The researchers, working with BGU doctoral student Lior Hassan, looked at a number of biomarkers that are signs of inflammatory fat tissue collected from patients undergoing abdominal surgery. New models were used to assess patients’ exposure to air pollution over a period of one to three weeks, six months and one year.
The study found that there is a link between air pollution and about 40 biomarkers in human fat tissue at various periods of time, indicating that the formation of fat exposed to air pollution is harmful to the body.
Body fat is an endocrine “organ” that has an effect on the rest of the body, said Novack, adding that fatty tissue exposed to air pollution appears to be activated.
This explains why some people who are overweight get sick and why others with the same lifestyle do not. Air pollution plays a role in activating the fat, making it active and causing disease, Novack explained.
As part of a follow-up study being conducted at Soroka, patients who will undergo abdominal surgery are being recruited using questionnaires that will make it possible for the researchers to assess their exposure to air pollution. The study will also take into consideration the patient’s habits, such as smoking, physical activity and time spent outside the home.
“The use of innovative models to test the effects of air pollution on cardiovascular disease and metabolism at the tissue level will enable us to improve the mechanistic understanding of the relationship between air pollution, the biology of fat tissue and metabolic function,” Novack concluded.