Using nutritional solutions to combat air pollution
Interview

Using nutritional solutions to combat air pollution

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Optimising the intake of micronutrients, antioxidants, and omega-3 EPA and DHA either through dietary changes or nutritional supplementation may reduce the ill effects of air pollution on health, says Ajit Damle, Business Head-Human Nutrition and Health, DSM Nutritional Products India, in conversation with Elets News Network (ENN).

How can nutritional solutions help combat the negative impact of air pollution on health?

The presence of fine particulate matter PM2.5 in the air that we inhale poses a very high risk to the quality and duration of our human life. In India, it is reported that air pollution causes as many as 1.2 million deaths, with Delhi being India’s most polluted city. Carrying many toxic substances, PM2.5 can evoke a series of responses locally and systemically when inhaled. These can include exacerbation of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), decreased lung function and increased risk of heart attacks.

Optimising the intake of micronutrients, antioxidants, and omega-3 EPA and DHA either through dietary changes or nutritional supplementation may reduce inflammation, and therefore reduce the risk of developing the associated diseases such as cardiovascular damage.

What role do micro nutrients play in strengthening body immunity and combating health hazards specially because of air pollution?

Various combinations of micronutrients may prevent the impact of PM2.5 exposures on different aspects of health. For example, omega-3 EPA and DHA alone may reduce oxidative stress, improve heart function and heart rate variability (HRV) decline induced by PM2.5 exposures. B vitamins may prevent the decline of heart rate variability (HRV) and vitamin E and C may also reduce PM2.5 induced oxidative stress. Additionally, Vitamin C acts together with vitamin E as an antioxidant system, while vitamin E helps protect against free radical damage. Omega-3 EPA and DHA contributes to the normal function of the heart.

Which solutions do you suggest for a country like India where a large number of people are poor and cannot afford to have nutritious food.

Food fortification, especially staple food fortification, has been shown to be one of the safest and most cost-effective measures to improve the nutritional value of a diet, with the potential to rapidly improve the micronutrient status of the population without any changes in existing food patterns or in individual compliance.

However, it should be clear that providing fortified foods should be considered as part of a wider, more holistic nutritional strategy. This includes helping consumers understand healthier food choices.

This can be done through government programmes such as food labelling. For example, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) have already introduced a ‘fortified’ logo, which will appear on the packaging of staple products to indicate those which have been fortified with added vitamins and minerals.

How is DSM India planning to bring together vitamins suppliers, governments, and health bodies to make concerted efforts against air pollution?

Globally, DSM believes it is essential that investment into research on nutritional solutions and collaborations between scientific communities, industry bodies and governments are continued.

Scientific evidence does not reduce the responsibility of polluters or remove the pressure from authorities that enforce environmental protection policies and regulations.

Regarding this call out to government and other industry stakeholders to come together, has DSM got any positive feedback yet? What would be the next approach?

DSM has been continuously reaching out to key stakeholders to address the global issue of air quality. Nutritional supplementation and fortification are simple and inexpensive, and may help in minimising some of the harm caused by PM2.5 exposures in the interim, prior to reaching compliance with the WHO Air Quality Guidelines. Food producers can market products to become part of a sustainability policy, alongside positioning micronutrients as part of a social responsibility.

Given the diversity of India in terms of food habits and development, are there any research or case studies done to provide region-based nutritional solutions?

The FSSAI is already implementing state-specific fortification initiatives for various staple foods such as wheat flour, rice, oil and milk. For example, The Government of Karnataka has initiated distribution of vitamin and mineral fortified rice under the Midday Meal Scheme in 2,538 government schools in the state, benefiting more than 450,000 children across three districts.

The Government of Rajasthan announced the universal fortification of edible oil with vitamin A and D throughout all 189 functional edible oil mills and repacking units in Rajasthan. Nutritional supplementation and fortification are simple and inexpensive, and may help in minimising some of the harm caused by PM2.5 exposures prevalent in India today.

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