Newsletter #209 - New Research on Office Air Quality 🧠
Hey y’all, hope everyone is gearing up for a nice Mother’s Day weekend! (Also Kentucky Derby, of course)
This week, I thought I’d take a look at some research on air quality in indoor work environments that was published recently. For obvious reasons, the pandemic has brought the issue of clean air to the forefront, and there is certainly some persuasive research suggesting that better ventilation and air purification could help reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission (including, but not limited to, the coronavirus).
But some preliminary evidence suggests that improving air quality by removing common indoor pollutants, like volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter, could also improve our thinking and productivity. For instance, a now-famous paper published a while back found that elite chess players were more likely to make serious errors when playing in buildings with poorer air quality. So if you want to perform at your best, breathing good air is a must. On the opposite end of the spectrum, greater exposure to green space, and the introduction of natural microbes, could offer health benefits and help counteract some of the deleterious effects of air pollution.
This Week's Research Highlights
🦠 Air quality in offices may affect the cognitive performance of employees.
Researchers recruited 302 healthy office workers in 43 urban commercial buildings located in six countries. The participants’ workspaces were outfitted with real-time environmental sensors, which were used to collect data on indoor CO2 and particulate matter levels over the course of 12 months. Concurrently, the research team assessed the cognitive function of these subjects by having them perform the Stroop color-word test and addition-subtraction test via an app during regular work hours once per week. When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that higher concentrations of fine particulate matter and CO2 were associated with slower response times and reduced accuracy in the cognitive tests, and performance deteriorated as concentrations of pollutants increased. Importantly, these effects were evident at levels that are commonly observed in indoor environments. Lead author Jose Guillermo Cedeño Laurent said, “Our study adds to the emerging evidence that air pollution has an impact on our brain. The findings show that increases in PM2.5 levels were associated with acute reductions in cognitive function. It's the first time we've seen these short-term effects among younger adults.”
🏡 Air quality in homes, for people working remotely, may be even worse.
Researchers measured levels of fine particulate matter as well as volatile organic chemicals in an office building before the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, they installed air monitors in the homes of employees who had worked at that building, and assessed indoor pollution while those individuals worked at home during the pandemic. They found that fine particulate matter levels were significantly higher at the homes of all participants, compared to the levels assessed previously at the office. In fact, levels of PM2.5 in all of the homes exceeded air quality standards established by the EPA for a healthy work environment, while the majority of the offices were in compliance. Participants were also more likely to report symptoms consistent with sick building syndrome while they worked from home.
💚 Green walls in offices enhance immune regulation and the skin microbiota.
Researchers in Finland randomly assigned office workers to two groups: One group had vegetated (green) walls installed in their offices, and the others worked without green walls (control group). After two weeks, the employees with the green walls showed increased levels of Lactobacillus on their skin. Lactobacillus are found in both plants and humans, and have been shown to help fight pathogens and improve skin integrity. Over the course of a month, changes in the skin microbiota were linked to a reduction in concentrations of a pro-inflammatory cytokine (IL-17A) and an increase in a cytokine associated with better immune regulation (TGF-β1). Living interior design elements like this are probably not super practical for most of us, but you might be able to replicate this by occasionally working outside (like at a park), or just taking frequent breaks to walk outside.
Random Trivia & Weird News
🏇 Secretariat, perhaps the greatest racehorse of all time, and the record-holder of the Kentucky Derby as well as the other two races in the Triple Crown, had a heart that was weighed 22 pounds - more than twice the mass of an average horse.
The veterinarian who performed the necropsy said:
“I've seen and done thousands of autopsies on horses, and nothing I'd ever seen compared to it. The heart of the average horse weighs about nine pounds. This was almost twice the average size, and a third larger than any equine heart I'd ever seen. And it wasn't pathologically enlarged. All the chambers and the valves were normal. It was just larger. I think it told us why he was able to do what he did.”
Podcasts We Loved This Week
- Danny Lennon & Alan Flanagan: Fasting and longevity - does the evidence match the hype? Via Sigma Nutrition Radio.
- Karl & Spencer Nadolsky: Intermittent fasting and weight loss. Via the Docs Who Lift Podcast.
Products We Are Enjoying
LEVOIT H13 True HEPA Filter Air Purifier
I have used this air purifier for my bedroom for some time and I really like it. It is small, relatively quiet, energy efficient, and economical (both the unit and replacement filters are pretty cheap).
Bear in mind that the area coverage for a little purifier like this is pretty narrow, so I definitely wouldn’t count on it to clean your entire home or a substantial portion of the house. It’s perfect for gobbling up allergens, dust, mold, etc in a small space though, like a bedroom or office.
humanOS Catalog Feature of the Week
How-to Guide - Indoor Air Quality
There isn’t a whole lot that you can do individually about outdoor air pollution other than stay inside when levels of pollutants are high (or move somewhere with cleaner air I guess?).
But the indoor environment has its own perils. Indeed, the EPA has estimated that concentrations of certain recognized air pollutants can be 2-5 times higher in indoor environments than outdoors, due to compromised dilution capacity in enclosed spaces. And fortunately, indoor air is much more actionable.
In this How-to Guide, we identify the main types of indoor air pollutants and go over what you can do to mitigate or eliminate them, as well as some fact-checking on a very popular (but scientifically dubious) method for purifying indoor air.
Thanks for reading, and we'll see y'all next week!