Researchers from New York University School of Medicine have revealed that certain chemicals produced by the body may have helped protect the health of some of the first responders who were exposed to toxic dust when the World Trade Center was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Lower OAD Risk

Study researcher Anna Nolan, from NYU Langone Health, and colleagues analyzed the blood samples of 14,000 firefighters and EMS workers who worked at the disaster site following the historic 9/11 attacks, and whose lung function was tested before and after the event.

They were able to identify 30 metabolites, the chemicals the body makes when it breaks down fats, carbohydrates, and protein, that are associated with reduced risk of obstructive airway disease (OAD) in the first responders.

OAD occurs because of blockages or obstructions in the airways. The blockages damage the lungs and cause the airways to narrow, causing breathing difficulties. It can be caused by asthma and cystic fibrosis, but environmental exposure to toxins and smoke can also be a factor.

Nolan and colleagues found that the first responders who did not develop OAD have higher levels of the metabolites compared with those who developed lung disease.

Metabolites That Can Reduce Lung Disease Risk

The researchers said these protective metabolites that can protect people exposed to toxic particles produced by fire and smoke include protein-building amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids.

They said that Individuals can improve levels of these metabolites in their body through diet, drugs, and exercise. Nolan and colleagues said these metabolites are easily obtained through diets that are rich in fish and olive oil, such as the Mediterranean diet.

"Our new work shows that some metabolites may actually protect first responders from losing their lung function," Nolan said. "We are closer to predicting who gets lung damage. This, in turn, offers unique opportunities for better diagnosis and prevention of obstructive airway disease moving forward."

The researchers published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports on Sept. 3.

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