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What Do Your Dreams Say About Your Sleep Quality?

A good night’s sleep is far more nuanced than simply putting in your seven to nine hours and calling it a day. Good, healthy sleep means feeling rested upon waking. It means not having chronic bad dreams or nightmares. And it turns out that the difference between a smile-filled slumber and a fearful one isn’t entirely up to chance.

According to a group of French researchers writing in the Journal of Sleep Research, all people dream when they sleep, even people who think they don’t. But is there a correlation between good sleep and good dreams? We partnered with Sleep Number to dig into this and other dream-related questions: Does sleeping well lead to more — or more pleasant — dreams? Does sleeping poorly lead to bad dreams? The answers to each of these queries, we discovered,, are yes … and no.
factoid 2 Clinically speaking, a “good night’s sleep” is considered one that consists of seven to nine hours of quality, uninterrupted snooze time — barring the simple activities that wake us during the night like using the restroom, getting a glass of water or even turning over.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine describes the experience of sleep as unfolding in four phases, culminating in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The stages repeat in order every 90 to 110 minutes on average. Stages 1 and 2 are characterized by a progression from light sleep through a gradual slowing of brain waves. Stage 3 is the period of sleep when we’re the most conked out. If you’ve ever had a hard time waking someone up, he or she was probably in this third stage of the sleep cycle. The fourth stage, REM sleep, is when our breathing rate quickens and our eyes move under our eyelids. This is the stage during which most people dream, especially when it occurs in the latter half of the night. We can also dream in the other stages of sleep, but scientists don’t have a good idea of how often or how much.

What Do Dreams Do For Our Health?
Studies show that dreaming is good for us. Rubin Naiman, a sleep and dream expert on the clinical faculty of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, says, “Good dreaming contributes to our psychological well-being by supporting healthy memory, warding off depression, and expanding our ordinary limited consciousness into broader, spiritual realms.” A study at Harvard Medical School concluded that dreaming also helps us consolidate memories and retain information.

In the book The Mind in Sleep, Arthur M. Arkin cites a study in which subjects were deprived of REM sleep intermittently over a period of time. The study concluded that there is a “close association between REM sleep and dream recall” and a “positive correlation between REM density and the subjects’ active involvement in dramatic dreams.” In other words, the longer your REM cycle, the more intense your dreams.

“If you have very poor sleep, you may not even dream at all,” says John S. Antrobus, a professor of psychology and sleep research at the City College of New York, now retired. “But it depends on why you’re not having a good night’s sleep.” According to Antrobus, factors that can lead to poor sleep include consuming alcohol before bed, experiencing stress and having a disturbing day. Other causes include keeping electronics like cell phones, televisions or computers in the bedroom; eating, exercising or consuming caffeine too late; having an uncomfortable bed or sleeping environment; and keeping an inconsistent sleep schedule.

So, “good” sleep — or sack time that includes REM sleep — leads to an active dream life, and in turn an active dream life is good for us. But when it comes to the relationship between getting a good night’s sleep and having good dreams, or remembering our dreams better, the science gets murky.

What Things Can Impact Our Dreams?
Several factors influence our ability to remember our dreams (also known as lucid dreaming or dream recall) — from age and gender to specific personality traits — but there is no hard evidence explaining why some people remember their dreams better than others. Often, it seems as if we only remember the dreams we were having right before we wake up. Antrobus, the former sleep researcher, explains that this is related to another cycle of brain activation on which the sleep stages rely. “That larger cycle starts before you fall asleep and leaves you feeling sleepy and wanting to go to bed at night,” he says. That cycle winds down in the hour or so before we wake up, when our brains are most active and we’re having more dreams, “and that’s why you tend to remember more of them.”

Timing, in other words, is everything. “A lot of people only remember their dreams if their alarm clock wakes them up right in the middle of it,” adds Dr. Shalini Paruthi, director of the Pediatric Sleep and Research Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. A study conducted at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France supported this theory, concluding that “high dream recallers are more reactive to environmental stimuli [during sleep], awaken more during sleep, and thus better encode dreams in memory than low dream recallers.”

Likewise, there is no evidence-based research as to whether sleep quality affects our ability to remember dreams or control the tenor of dreams. Rather, Paruthi says, “Whatever people are exposed to during the daytime will have an impact on their dreaming at night.”

This is the premise for a technique called imagery rehearsal therapy, which involves visualizing alternate endings to bad dreams 10 to 15 minutes before a person goes to bed each night. “Even thinking about good things to dream as you’re drifting off to sleep can impact [the] dreams that you have that night,” Paruthi explains. “So, you can have a negative impact on your dreams if you’re surrounded or getting exposed to negative things throughout the day. But, on the flip side, you can also have [a] positive impact on your dreams if the last things that you’re thinking about are positive things.”

Deirdre Barrett, author of The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem-Solving –And How You Can, Too and an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, is a firm believer in our ability to influence our own dreams. “The details of how to do it are very different depending on whether you’re trying to induce lucid dreams, whether you’re trying to dream about particular content, or whether you’re trying to dream a solution to a particular personal or objective problem,” she said in an interview with Scientific American.

Whether your goal is to dream about a particular topic or person, change the outcome of your dream, remember your dream, or problem-solve in your dream, Barrett suggests to “first of all think of the problem before bed, and if it lends itself to an image, hold it in your mind and let it be the last thing in your mind before falling asleep.” She also recommends not jumping out of bed right away upon waking up. “Almost half of dream content is lost if you get distracted. Lie there, don’t do anything else. If you don’t recall a dream immediately, see if you feel a particular emotion — the whole dream would come flooding back.”

What Control Do We Have Over How And What We Dream?
Getting a good night’s sleep, Paruthi says, “is the most important thing” we can do to ensure that we dream. First and foremost, that means sleeping in a room that’s dark, quiet and cool (65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit). Other things we can do to help us sleep better include taking a bath and reading a book before bed; practicing relaxation exercises; avoiding stressful or stimulating activities before sleep; napping early in the day (or not at all); exercising earlier in the day; avoiding alcohol, sugar and large meals before sleep; maintaining a regular sleep schedule; and, as simple as this might sound, going to bed when we’re tired.

While we can’t have 100 percent control over our dreams, there are things we can do to influence them in a positive direction, experts say. Among them: exposure to pleasant smells and sounds while we’re sleeping; avoiding spicy foods; not smoking; eating healthy and exercising regularly; and improving our daytime thought patterns. In simplistic terms, if you want good dreams, sleep well and think happy thoughts.

Growing Up With a Dog Lowers a Child’s Asthma Risk

The benefits of canine companionship are myriad. Studies have found dog owners tend to be in better physical shape, more socially adept and have reduced levels of stress and depression. Now new research adds lowered risk for asthma to the list.

A study looked at nine different data sets that accounted for more than 1 million childrenall born in Sweden between January 2001 and December 2010 and found that those who had pet dogs in the first year of life had a 15 percent lower rate of asthma than those who did not grow up with a dog in the home. The results were consistent even among children who had parents with asthma. The findings of the studythe largest to date that examines the link between pet ownership and asthmawere published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

The new research adds some ammo to those who argue for the hygiene hypothesis, which is the theory that living in an environment that is too clean promotes the risk of developing certain conditions, such as asthma.

“If we look at this history, we’ve been living with dogs for a very long time,” says Tove Fall, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden and a coordinator on the study. “It’s the first pets we had.”

Sweden’s social services and health care system provided a unique opportunity to examine the subject in one comprehensive study on a bigger population. When a child is born in the Sweden, he or she is given a unique identification number, and all medical records, including visits with specialists and prescribed medicines, are kept in a single database.

The country also maintains meticulous records on household data, including information on dog ownership, which has not been used for health research in the past. Swedish dog owners are required by law to register their pet with an identification number.

The authors of the study call the phenomenon the “farming effect,” because other researchers have found that children who grow up on farms are also less likely to develop asthma. An analysis of 39 studies on farming and asthma found children who had early exposure to farm animals, such as cattle and sheep, had a 25 percent lower risk for developing asthma, compared with those who did not grow up on a farm.

Fall says their findings indicate that having a dog in the household may affect a child’s microbiome, the unique bacterial environment of the gut that is determined by a number of factors, including the air we breathe and the food we eat. Fall wonders if there’s a specific strain of bacteria that’s transmitted from dog to child that makes the latter less prone to asthma. She added that children living in households with dogs probably spend more time outdoors and may be exercising more frequently, both of which could lower their risk for childhood asthma.

But Fall says the new study’s findings are not enough to say definitively that having a dog can help fend off the chronic respiratory condition. Her team hopes to examine the link in more detail. Sweden’s dog registry is highly detailed and includes information on the breed and gender of the dog, which could help them figure out if certain pet qualities offer more protection.

“If you look at dust from a non-dog household, there are nearly no bacterial fragments,” says Fall. “Children that are growing up in a home with a dog are exposed to more microbes. These dog households generally have this lower risk, and we need to find the mechanism behind that.”

10 Common Sleep Mistakes To Avoid

Here are the 10 most common sleep mistakes people make and a few tips for avoiding them!

1. The snooze button
Don’t EVER hit the snooze button. It really is much more beneficial to just get up on your first alarm. Think about it – the snooze button gives you an extra 10 minutes or so sleep. In the grand scheme of your day this really won’t provide you with any more energy. In-fact it does the opposite. Research has shown that ‘interrupted sleep’ can cause us to feel more tired.

2. Disorganized sleeping habits
It’s much easier to get to sleep each night (and wake up feeling refreshed) if we have a regular routine. This means going to bed at roughly the same time each night and getting up at roughly the same time each morning. If you’re disorganized with your sleeping routine, you end up interrupting your natural sleeping rhythms, which can cause insomnia and fatigue.

3. Long naps
Long naps can disrupt your sleeping rhythms so if you’re desperate for a nap then keep it under the 30 minute mark (and before 4pm). Short naps after lunch can help to restore energy levels (just make sure you don’t sleep in).

4. Caffeine/stimulants
Don’t drink any caffeinated drinks after mid-day. Caffeine stimulates your body for up to 12 hours after consumption so it’s important to restrict your intake later in the day. Be aware of supposed ‘herbal’ drinks such as green tea, which can have a high dose of caffeine. Always check the label.

5. Stress & negative thinking
Stress is a large reason why many people find it difficult to sleep. One of the worse things you can do is be stressed before bed. Stress produces chemicals that physically stop us from sleeping. Try and clear your mind before bed time and make an effort to think positive thoughts that aid sleep.

6. Too much light
Our bodies depend on ‘sleep signals’ to fall asleep and one of those signals is darkness. Make sure your room is as dark as possible before trying to get to sleep. Even a thin stream of light coming in through your window can disrupt your pineal gland’s production of sleep hormones and therefore disturb your sleep rhythms, so make sure your blinds are closed!

7. Sugar before bedtime
Sugary snacks before bedtime are a really bad idea. The sugar can disrupt the chemicals in your body causing you to wake up during the night. Limit all late night sweet treats – if you’re hungry go for a protein based snack instead.

8. Alcohol before bedtime
Alcohol is a sedative and therefore people get fooled into thinking it will help them get a good nights sleep. The reality is that it may initially induce sleep, however it usually drastically impairs sleep during the second half of the night which leads to interrupted sleep patterns that will leave you feeling fatigued in the morning (not to mention the hangover!)

9. TV in the bedroom
It can be easy to fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV. It’s important we don’t try and replicate this strategy in the bedroom though. The bedroom must only be associated with sleep (and sex). When you start to introduce mental stimulation such as a TV this can severely disrupt your sleep patterns.

10. Worrying about sleep
If you’ve had a few bad nights sleep, then the worst thing you can do is worry too much about it. When we place too much focus on sleeping this can cause anxiety and only make the problem worse. Try to go with the flow and let your body naturally get into a healthy sleep pattern.

Stepcase Lifehack August 28, 2012, Zoe B

Is your mattress hurting your health?

Could your mattress be affecting your health and immune function?

Do you know what chemicals are required by law in a conventional mattress?
How much mold do you think your current mattress has?
Come find out!

We will show you the difference a mattress can make on your health, sleep, digestion, allergies and more with a demonstration and a short talk followed by Q&A. Come see what a difference you can make with your health!

Special guest, Monica Hershaft, owner of MLH Wellness will be there to explain how your health and immune function go hand in hand with the toxins in your environment. She will also discuss the different choices you can make to put your health first. Treat the source of your issues instead of the symptoms!

Some healthy munchies will be served and a short talk at 4:30 with Q&A followed by demonstrations of how your mattress can affect your health!

Call (310) 425-3045 for more details or if you have any questions.

Please RSVP here for your space!
What: Health Q&A
When: Saturday December 19, 2015 4pm-6pm
Where: Goodnight Naturals
5979 West 3rd St.
(At Martel – Next to the Coffee Bean)
Los Angeles, California 90036
Please feel free to re-share and invite anyone you think could benefit.

Antibiotic overuse might be why so many people have allergies

When we think of antibiotic overuse, we don’t generally think of allergies. Research is beginning to suggest that maybe we should, writes Avery August.
Source: The Conversation 28 SEP 2015 – 6:58 PM UPDATED 29 SEP 2015 – 7:22 AM

Avery August, Cornell University
Scientists have warned for decades that the overuse of antibiotics leads to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, making it harder to fight infectious disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drug resistant bacteria cause 23,000 deaths and two million illnesses each year.

But when we think of antibiotic overuse, we don’t generally think of allergies. Research is beginning to suggest that maybe we should.

Allergies are getting more and more common
In the last two to three decades, immunologists and allergists have noted a dramatic increase in the prevalence of allergies. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology reports that some 40%-50% of schoolchildren worldwide are sensitized to one or more allergens. The most common of these are skin allergies such as eczema (10%-17%), respiratory allergies such as asthma and rhinitis (~10%), and food allergies such as those to peanuts (~8%).

This isn’t just happening in the US. Other industrialized countries have seen increases as well.

This rise has mirrored the increased use of antibiotics, particularly in children for common viral infections such as colds and sore throats. Recent studies show that they may be connected.

Antibiotics can disrupt the gut microbiome
Why would antibiotics, which we use to fight harmful bacteria, wind up making someone more susceptible to an allergy? While antibiotics fight infections, they also reduce the normal bacteria in our gastrointestinal system, the so-called gut microbiome.

Because of the interplay between gut bacteria and the normal equilibrium of cells of the immune system, the gut microbiome plays an important role in the maturation of the immune response. When this interaction between bacteria and immune cells does not happen, the immune system responds inappropriately to innocuous substances such as food or components of dust. This can result in the development of potentially fatal allergies.

Exposure to the microbes at an early age is important for full maturation of our immune systems. Reducing those microbes may make us feel cleaner, but our immune systems may suffer.

Do more microbes means fewer allergies?
Research done in Europe has shown that children who grow up on farms have a wider diversity of microbes in their gut, and have up to 70% reduced prevalence of allergies and asthma compared to children who did not grow up on farms. This is because exposure to such a wide range of microbes allows our immune systems to undergo balanced maturation, thus providing protection against inappropriate immune responses.

In our attempts to prevent infections, we may be setting the stage for our children to developing life-threatening allergies and asthma.

For instance, a study from 2005 found that infants exposed to antibiotics in the first 4-6 months have a 1.3- to 5-fold higher risk of developing allergy. And infants with reduced bacterial diversity, which can occur with antibiotic use, have increased risk of developing eczema.

And it’s not the just the antibiotics kids take that can make a difference. It’s also the antibiotics their mothers take. The Copenhagen Prospective Study on Asthma in Childhood Cohort, a major longitudinal study of infants born to asthmatic mothers in Denmark, reported that children whose mothers took antibiotics during pregnancy were almost twice as likely to develop asthma compared to children whose mothers did not take antibiotics during pregnancy.

Finally, in mice studies, offspring of mice treated with antibiotics were shown to have an increased likelihood of developing allergies and asthma.

More prescriptions for antibiotics might mean more allergies. Gary Cameron/Reuters

Why are antibiotics overused?
Physicians and patients know that overusing antibiotics can cause big problems. It seems that a relatively small number of physicians are driving overprescription of antibiotics. A recent study of physician prescribing practices reported that 10% of physicians prescribed antibiotics to 95% of their patients with upper respiratory tract infections.

Health care professionals should not only be concerned about the development of antibiotic resistance, but also the fact that we may be creating another health problem in our patients, and possibly in their children too.

Parents should think carefully about asking physicians for antibiotics in an attempt to treat their children’s common colds and sore throats (or their own), which are often caused by viral infections that don’t respond to them anyway. And doctors should think twice about prescribing antibiotics to treat these illnesses, too.

As we develop new antibiotics, we need to address overuse
As resistant bacteria become a greater problem, we desperately need to develop new antibiotics. The development process for a new antibiotic takes a considerable amount of time (up to 10 years), and drug companies have previously neglected this area of drug development.

Congress has recognized that antibiotic overuse is a major problem and recently passed the 21st Century Cures bill. This bill includes provisions that would create payment incentives from Medicare for hospitals that use new antibiotics.

But this approach would have the perverse effect of increasing the use of any new antibiotics in our arsenal without regard for whether bacterial resistance has developed. This would not only exacerbate the problem of resistance, but potentially lead to more people developing allergies.

Congress should consider more than just supporting increased development of new antibiotics, but also address the core problem of overuse. This may stave off the further development of antibiotic resistant bacteria and reduce the trend of increasing development of allergies.

The Conversation

Avery August receives funding from National Institutes of Health.

Article by The Conversation

The Many Reasons Why You Need Sleep

by Joseph Mercola Oct 15, 2015
(Reprinted from, Robert Stickgold video courtesy of Tedx)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lack of sleep is a public health epidemic, noting that insufficient sleep has been linked to a wide variety of health problems.

After reviewing more than 300 studies to determine how many hours of sleep most people need to maintain their health, an expert panel concluded that, as a general rule, most adults need right around eight hours per night.
Unfortunately, an estimated 40 percent of Americans are sleep deprived.

Many get less than five hours of sleep per night, which can have a wide range of health repercussions, from an increased risk of accidents, weight gain and chronic diseases, to reduced sex drive, and decreased sexual satisfaction.1
It also plays an important part in memory formation, and sleep dysfunctions such as sleep apnea have been shown to speed up memory loss.
I used to be one of those people who disregarded the value of sleep, rarely getting more than five or six hours of sleep each night.

I typically average between 8 ½ to 8 ¾ every night, now that I more fully appreciate sleep’s massive value for overall health and longevity.

Sleep and Memory Formation
In the featured video, Robert Stickgold, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, discusses some of the lesser known reasons for why we need to sleep.
Sleep is actually essential not just for cementing events into long-term memory, but also for making sense of your life.

According to Stickgold, during sleep your brain “extracts the gist of what happened” to you during the day, and fosters insight into the workings of your life.

Essentially, during sleep, your brain pulls together and extracts meaning, while discarding unimportant details. In fact, sleep increases your ability to gain insights that would otherwise remain elusive by about 250 percent!
Dreaming plays a role in this process too. One test showed that thinking about correctly navigating through a maze really had no effect on performance.

Ditto for taking a nap during which no dreaming was reported. Dreaming about navigating through the maze however, increased performance 10-fold!
According to Stickgold, the act of dreaming acts like a predictive marker, indicating that your brain is doing what it needs to do to successfully accomplish the task at hand.

These types of tests also showed that in the dream state, your brain is processing information at multiple levels. Your whole brain is engaged. So, during sleep, part of your brain is busy stabilizing, enhancing, and integrating new memories. It’s also extracting rules, and the “gist” of what’s going on.
Then, during dreaming, old and new memories are integrated to form a new whole, and possible futures are imagined. This is what you actually perceive as “the action” of your dream. The sum total of these processes then allows you to see the meaning of your life.

Less Sleep Results in Greater Calorie Consumption While Awake
On a more physical level, getting less than seven hours of sleep per night has been shown to raise your risk of weight gain, by increasing levels of appetite-inducing hormones.

Recent research in which people’s sleep and food intake was carefully tracked confirmed that more sleep correlated with fewer calories consumed, and vice versa.

Most participants spread their eating and drinking over the course of 15 hours each day. About 25 percent of their daily calories were consumed before noon, and more than 35 percent after 6 pm.

This kind of eating pattern is, I believe, a major reason why so many Americans struggle with their weight. They’re grazing all day long, and eating a majority of their food far too close to bedtime.
This flies in the face of our genetic ancestry, as our bodies are not designed to continuously receive calories. In fact, a number of beneficial effects take place when you go for periods of time without eating. This includes improved insulin and leptin sensitivity, which plays an important role in weight and health.

Eating too close to bedtime also disrupts the function of your mitochondria, thereby speeding up cell damage and contributing to DNA mutations. Indeed, the benefits of restricting your eating to a narrower window each day are revealed in this study too.
As reported by Reuters:5
“The researchers also tested whether the app might help people eat less by encouraging them to consume food and drink over a shorter stretch of the day.

They asked eight overweight people who tended to eat over more than 14 hours of the day to cut back to 10 to 11 hours. After 16 weeks, these people lost about 3.5 percent of their excess body weight and reported sleeping better…”

Poor Sleep Raises Risk of Accidents and Depression
Getting less than six hours of sleep leaves you cognitively impaired, which can have repercussions both at home, at work, and on the road. In 2013, drowsy drivers caused 72,000 car accidents in which 800 Americans were killed, and 44,000 were injured.6

Even a single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day. Lack of sleep has also been firmly linked to a heightened risk for depression.
Of the approximately 18 million Americans with depression, more than half of them struggle with insomnia. While it was long thought that insomnia was a symptom of depression, it now seems that insomnia may precede depression in some cases.7

Research has also found that sleep therapy resulted in remarkable improvements in depressed patients. About 70 percent of those with sleep apnea, whose sleep is repeatedly disrupted throughout the night, also tend to suffer from symptoms of depression.8
It’s interesting to consider that if lack of sleep and lack of dreaming prevents you from seeing the meaning of your life, and prevents you from integrating memories and imagining possible futures (as discussed in the featured video), couldn’t thatplay a significant role in fostering depression? I believe it could.

Long-Term Sleep Deprivation Is a Risk Factor in Many Chronic Diseases
Over the long term, sleep deprivation — regardless of the cause — has been linked to a number of serious health effects, including but not limited to:
• Diabetes. One of the most recent studies9 on this linked “excessive daytime sleepiness” with a 56 percent increased risk for type 2 diabetes
• Decreased immune function. One recent study10 suggests deep sleep plays a role in strengthening immunological memories of previously encountered pathogens in a way similar to psychological long-term memory retention. In this way, your immune system is able to mount a much faster and more effective response when an antigen is encountered a second time
• Cardiovascular and heart disease. In one study, women who got less than four hours of shut-eye per night doubled their risk of dying from heart disease.11 In a more recent study,12 adults who slept less than five hours a night had 50 percent more coronary calcium, a sign of oncoming heart disease, than those who regularly got seven hours.
Interestingly, sleeping more than nine hours a night was associated with 70 percent more calcium in the coronary arteries, compared to sleeping seven hours. The quality of sleep also had a big impact on blood vessel health. Those who reported sleeping poorly had 20 percent more arterial calcium than those who slept well.
• Alzheimer’s.13 A number of studies have linked poor sleep or lack of sleep to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. One of the reasons for this has to do with the fact that the glymphatic system — your brain’s waste removal system — only operates during deep sleep. Researchers have discovered14 that your blood-brain barrier tends to become more permeable with age, allowing more toxins to enter.
This, in conjunction with reduced efficiency of the glymphatic system due to lack of sleep, allows for more rapid damage to occur in your brain and this deterioration is thought to play a significant role in the development of Alzheimer’s.
• Cancer. Tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions. The primary mechanism thought to be responsible for this effect is disrupted melatonin production, a hormone with both antioxidant and anti-cancer activity. Melatonin both inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells and triggers cancer cell apoptosis (self-destruction). It also interferes with the new blood supply tumors required for their rapid growth (angiogenesis). A number of studies have shown that night shift workers are at heightened risk of cancer for this reason.

Unless nations act, air pollution deaths will double by 2050, study concludes

The annual death toll from outdoor air pollution could double to 6.6 million globally by 2050 without new antipollution measures, a new study suggests. But policymakers seeking to reduce the death toll will need to clamp down on a wide array of potentially hard to control pollution sources—including household furnaces and agricultural activities—that are expected to play a growing role, researchers report today in Nature.

The study marks a solid step toward clarifying exactly how major sources of air pollution contribute to premature death around the world, says Aaron Cohen, an epidemiologist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Boston, who wasn’t involved in the study. That information will prove useful to policymakers, he suggests.

Existing estimates have been hampered by gaps in air pollution data, particularly in the developing world, and a lack of knowledge about how specific air pollution sources contribute to the risk of disease and death.

To get a clearer picture, researchers led by Jos Lelieveld of the Germany-based Max Planck Institute decided to take a global look at outdoor air pollution, which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates is responsible for almost 3.5 million premature deaths annually. (WHO estimates indoor air pollution accounts for an additional 3.5 million.)

Using a computer model that fused air pollution and atmospheric chemistry data, they estimated what annual average levels of ozone (a key smog ingredient) and fine particulates smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) were in 2010 within 100-km-by-100-km grid squares across the world. Then they forecast what the levels of both pollutants would be in 2050, assuming policymakers implemented no new controls.

Next, the researchers estimated how many premature deaths the pollution caused in each square. To do that, they used a set of equations—recently updated based on the most recent epidemiological research—describing how exposure to air pollution affects a person’s risk of dying from various diseases. These “exposure response relationship” equations enabled the researchers to calculate how fine particles and smog would affect the risk of a range of diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and pulmonary disorders.

In a final step, they estimated the fraction of deaths in each square attributable to a specific pollution source, including automobiles, power plants, in-home energy generation, and farm activities such as burning crop residues.

Overall, the researchers concluded that, in 2010, 3.3 million people died prematurely from outdoor PM2.5 and ozone pollution. That number echoes recent WHO estimates. But the more troubling finding, the researchers say, is that the annual death toll would rise to 6.6 million by 2050 without new controls.

The deadliest outdoor pollution source—accounting for 31%, or about 1 million, of premature deaths in 2010—is residential energy use, such as furnaces. And the bulk of these deaths would occur in Asian countries such as India and China, the researchers concluded, where households often use soot-emitting stoves and furnaces powered by wood. These emissions could be tricky to clamp down on; for instance, persuading residents of India to adopt cleaner technologies has proven difficult, Lelieveld says, in no small part because of cultural and family traditions.

The second deadliest source of pollution in 2010 was agriculture, accounting for about 20%, or more than 600,000, of the premature deaths in 2010, the researchers say.

“I was surprised” by that result, Lelieveld said. “What you tend to think is that [air pollution comes from] mostly traffic, and maybe industry.” But agricultural activities such as animal husbandry and fertilizer use generate ammonia, which can be converted to fine particles in the air, he explained. Agriculture is the leading source of outdoor pollution–related premature mortality in the eastern United States, Europe, and in countries such as Russia, Japan, and Turkey, the researchers found.

Other pollution sources, including the power sector, industry, biomass burning, and vehicle traffic, each made smaller contributions to the death total, the study concluded.

Keep the air in your home clean this winter

Tips from the experts at Austin Air
As winter approaches, we seal up our houses to keep the cold weather out but this lack of ventilation can have a serious impact on the quality of our indoor air. And as temperatures outside drop, we tend to spend much more of our time indoors too, making it even more important that our indoor air quality is as good as it can be.

So with this in mind we have put together a few expert tips, to ensure the air in your home and work space is clean and safe during the colder months.

One simple way to improve the air in your home is to invest in lots of house plants, as they work to naturally oxygenate the air around them. According to a NASA Clean Air Study, it is necessary to have at least one plant for every 100 square feet of indoor space.

As winter approaches, now is a good time to give your home a deep clean, to ensure dust and allergens are kept to a minimum. Wipe all surfaces with a damp cloth to stop dust being released back into the air. Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to clean carpets, soft furnishings and rugs. Vacuum cleaners with a HEPA filter work to trap fine particles of dust and pet dander in a way that traditional vacuum cleaners cannot. A HEPA vacuum cleaner also traps the dust without it escaping back into the room.

Be sure to check your house for damp and mold, particularly in problem areas such as bathrooms and basements which are perfect breeding grounds for mold to develop. It may also be a good idea to dedicate some time to grooming your pets at this time of year, as regular washing and brushing will keep shedding to a minimum.

All of the above are an important part of keeping your home dust and allergen free. But if you want to guarantee the highest quality indoor air, investing in a HEPA air cleaner is the way to go. Our Austin Air Cleaners, with proven filter technology, will provide the very best overall protection from a wide range of airborne particles, as well as chemicals, gases and odors, keeping the air in your home or work space as clean as it can be.