Growing assault on lung health when cooking with wood, researchers find

November 27, 2020
Growing assault on lung health when cooking with wood, researchers find

Cooking with biomass fuel such as wood or dry brush causes significant lung damage compared to cleaner-burning liquefied petroleum gas fuels, according to research by a multidisciplinary team from India and the US.

Investigating the impact of cookstove pollutants in 23 people cooking with liquefied petroleum gas or wood biomass in Thanjavur, India, researchers found users of wood biomass were exposed to greater concentrations of pollutants and bacterial endotoxins and had a significantly higher level of air trapping in their lungs, a condition associated with lung diseases.

“Air trapping happens when a part of the lung is unable to efficiently exchange air with the environment, so the next time you breathe in, you’re not getting enough oxygen into that region and eliminating carbon dioxide,” said Dr. Abhilash Kizhakke Puliyakote, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

The researchers also found a smaller subset of the biomass users who had very high levels of air trapping and abnormal tissue mechanics, even when compared to other biomass users. In about one-third of the group, more than 50% of the air they inhaled ended up trapped in their lungs.

“This increased sensitivity in a subgroup is seen in other studies on tobacco smokers, and there may be a genetic basis that predisposes some individuals to be more susceptible to their environment,” Dr. Kizhakke Puliyakote said.

Advanced CT scanning later added subtle but important information on smoke’s effect on the lungs that was underestimated by conventional tests.

The findings underscore the importance of minimising exposure to smoke from cooking with biomass and other sources, including wildfires – even in the absence of overt symptoms or breathing difficulties, the lung may have injury and inflammation that can go undetected and potentially unresolved, leading to full-blown disease or death.

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