Does Location Affect Diet? How Pollution, Weather, and Latitude Can Affect Your Nutrition
For decades, sociologists and biochemists alike have been posing the same question: nature versus nurture? How much of our human behavior is born into us, and how much is bred into us from external factors? It turns out a similar question could be asked when it comes to our nutrition. There are 3 main ways your location can affect your nutrition: pollution, weather, and latitude. All of these factors affect the vital nutrients your body is making or using every day—and can have significant implications for both our short- and long-term health
AIR POLLUTION CAN CAUSE OXIDATIVE STRESS AND VITAMIN SHORTFALLS
Pollution is generally thought to only be a big city problem—but it’s not. Living in a suburb outside of a city can affect the air quality around you. Even the most rural areas can have high pollution ratings depending on nearby farming practices. A recent study showed that the air pollution in California during the 2020 wildfires was so bad—it was equivalent to smoking 7–12 cigarettes a day.1 But the everyday pollution of smog and soot is just half the story.
Breathing polluted air sets off a chain of bad reactions in the body. Pollution enters your lungs and bloodstream, where it causes oxidative stress. This releases an army of unstable atoms known as free radicals. These greedy little atoms are missing an electron and will rampage through the body stealing electrons from molecules. This damaged molecule then steals its electron from another molecule, which leads to more damaged molecules…you get the picture.
Thankfully, the body has strategies in place to help deal with this. Antioxidants, like Vitamins C and E, help neutralize those pesky free radicals. But if there are too many free radicals—or not enough antioxidants to fend them off—healthy cells can get hurt.
Air pollution can also block the spectrum in the sun’s rays needed to synthesis Vitamin D, which increases your risk of a Vitamin D deficiency. So, air pollution not only increases our antioxidant needs, but also makes it more difficult to get the nutrients we need to stay healthy in the first place.
CLOUDY WEATHER CAN CLOUD OUR VITAMIN D
How cloudy is it where you live? Cloudy, drizzly climates may create cozy coffee shops and a bustling art culture, but they (like air pollution) can also breed vitamin shortfalls.
The body makes Vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun. Cloudy weather can block the sun and reduce how much Vitamin D your skin makes when exposed to the sun. So, people who live in locations that are largely overcast and cloudy throughout the year, have an increased risk of not getting enough Vitamin D.
LIVING ABOVE 37 DEGREES NORTH LATITUDE CAN AFFECT YOUR NUTRIENT STATUS TOO
The further you are from the equator—the weaker the sun’s rays are. For example, in the United States, if you draw a line from San Francisco to Philadelphia, anyone above that line makes very little Vitamin D in the fall and winter even when the sun is out.2 People who live in these areas are a higher risk for a Vitamin D deficiency.2
FOOD SOURCES & MORE FOR VITAMINS C, D, E AND OMEGA-3S
A nutrient-dense diet, including a variety of healthy foods is key to helping prevent the nutrient shortfalls that may occur because of where you live. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are both antioxidants which can help neutralize the oxidative stress caused by air pollution. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, as well as strawberries, broccoli, and even Brussel sprouts. Vitamin E can be found in whole grains, seeds, nuts and their oils.
If you aren’t getting enough of these key nutrients from your diet alone, a multivitamin that contains Vitamin C and E, plus a Vitamin C supplement with at least 250 mg Vitamin C, can help fill those dietary gaps.
Omega-3s can also help protect against the adverse effects of air pollution.3 Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, are found in fatty fish such as wild salmon, albacore tuna, lake trout, and sardines.
If you don’t eat fatty fish at least twice a week, you may want to consider an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement that provides 500–1000 mg EPA/DHA per day.
What are you supposed to do if air pollution, cloud coverage, or living above the 37-degree north latitude are getting in the way of you getting enough Vitamin D? If you can’t get enough of this critical nutrient from the sun, you may need some extra Vitamin D from fatty fish or fortified foods.
If you can’t get enough of this nutrient from the sun or from your diet, a Vitamin D dietary supplement that provides 1500–2000 IU/day could help fill those gaps!
GET THE NUTRIENTS YOU NEED, NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE
Whether you live in a bustling city, a quiet suburb, or the rural heartland—we all need the same nutrients to be at our best. But your location can have a big effect on just how easily these vital nutrients make their way to you. Everything from latitude to pollution and all the wildfires in between can have a serious effect on how the body makes and uses these vitamins. Going a little out of your way to add key nutrients to your diet (or your supplement routine), can have a big effect when it comes to your health—no matter how cloudy it is outside.
This information is for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
- Courthouse News Service. “Seven Cigarettes a Day: Panel Reveals Health Toll of Wildfire Smoke.” 2020. Courthousenews.com. Accessed on: December 8, 2020. https://www.courthousenews.com/seven-cigarettes-a-day-panel-reveals-health-toll-of-wildfire-smoke/
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Time for more vitamin D.” 2008. Harvard Medical School. Accessed on: December 8, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/time-for-more-vitamin-d
- Tong, H et al. “Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation appears to attenuate particulate air pollution–induced cardiac effects and lipid changes in healthy middle-aged adults. Environ Health Perspect. 2012; 120(7): 952–7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22514211/