Olive Oil and Fish Oil: Possible Protectors against Air Pollution

By Rose Keane

My grandmother is 97, and last year she chopped down an orange tree in her backyard with an axe. Recently I asked her how she was still able to live and move around so independently, and she says to me in her thick Austrian accent, “I take fish oil tablets – they’re very good.” Many people have said that fish oil will improve your health, but when you ask them they have no idea how or why. EPA scientist Dr. Samantha J. Snow is working to answer some questions about what fish oil may do by investigating the potential link between fish oil and how the body handles air pollution exposure.

Dr. Snow looks at a slide

EPA scientist Dr. Samantha J. Snow

Snow is receiving the Women in Toxicology’s Postdoctoral Achievement Award, presented by the Society of Toxicology (SOT), at the annual meeting held in New Orleans this week. Her recent research uses animal models to look at how these oils in the diet might change how the body handles exposure to ozone, a common outdoor air pollutant. A large body of scientific research has shown that the lungs and heart can be affected by air pollution. Scientists like Snow are studying whether ozone pollutants in the air are damaging other organ systems and even how our bodies use and regulate energy, also known as our metabolism. Snow and her colleagues are trying to find out whether adding fish oil to a diet can help people like my grandmother ward off the damaging effects of air pollution.

What the team discovered so far is that fish oil and olive oil could potentially protect muscles in the body from breaking down due to air pollution exposure. That might explain how my Oma was able to tackle that tree! The preliminary findings also suggest that fish oil could protect against higher levels of cholesterol caused by air pollution. However, olive oil was linked to a decreased ability to regulate glucose levels in the blood after ozone exposure.

Dr. Snow using a microscopeThese results could have very interesting implications for health research in the future, and could help scientists better identify how changing our diets might actually help protect our bodies from the harmful effects of air pollution. Scientists will also be better equipped to understand how the different systems in the body react differently to exposure.

In addition to her research, Snow has been very active in leadership roles in organizations such as the Society of Toxicology Postdoctoral Assembly and the Rho Tau chapter of Graduate Women in Science.

Snow’s presentation, entitled ‘Coconut, Fish and Olive Oil- Rich Diets Modify Ozone Induced Metabolic Effects,’ is one of many by EPA scientists at the largest toxicology meeting in the U.S. For a complete list of all EPA researchers presenting at this year’s SOT event, visit us at https://epa.gov/research/sot.

About the Author: Rose Keane is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.


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