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Interactions between environmental pollutants and dietary nutrients: current evidence and implications in epidemiological research

Abstract

Environmental pollutants and nutrients may be present in the same foodstuffs or dietary patterns; share internal mechanisms of transport, metabolism and cellular uptake; or target the same molecular signalling pathways and biological functions. Lipophilic pollutants and nutrients, like dioxins and polyunsaturated fatty acids, may often converge at all aforementioned levels and thus the interactions become more likely. Despite this fact, the topic seems overlooked in mainstream epidemiological research. In this essay, we illustrate different levels of documented interactions between pollutants and nutrients with experimental, interventional and epidemiological evidence, paying special attention to lipophilic chemicals. We first describe common pollutants and nutrients encountered in diets and the internal lipophilic interface such as adipose tissue and serum lipids. Next, we discuss the preventive effects of nutrients against absorption and the toxic effects of pollutants, as well as the pollutant-induced perturbation of nutrient metabolism. Finally, we discuss the implications of nutrient–pollutant interactions in epidemiology, providing some examples of negative confounding, modification effect and statistical interactions reported for different outcomes including fetal growth, diabetes and cancer. The evidence discussed in this essay supports that the health impacts of chemicals have likely been underestimated due to the high risk of residual and coexposure confounding in diseases where interactions between pollutants and nutrients may occur.

  • Biomonitoring
  • Nutrition
  • Environmental epidemiology
  • Modelling
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