Environmental Toxins Shorten Happy Lifespans

Summary: Researchers made a groundbreaking discovery linking environmental contaminants to a reduced span of emotional wellbeing. By utilizing a novel risk assessment tool, the study calculates the loss of happy life expectancy (LHpLE) due to exposure to environmental carcinogens like radon, arsenic, and fine particulate matter, and psychological distress.

Surprisingly, cancer’s impact on emotional happiness was found to be insignificant, whereas exposure to these carcinogens and psychological distress led to a notable decrease in happy lifespan years. This research emphasizes the importance of environmental policies aimed at reducing contaminant exposure to enhance public happiness and health.

Key Facts:

  1. The study introduces LHpLE as a measure combining happiness reduction and increased mortality due to environmental risk exposure.
  2. Environmental carcinogens decreased lifespan emotional happiness by up to 0.0064 years, with psychological distress having a significantly larger impact, reducing happy life expectancy by 0.97 years.
  3. Despite the presence of cancer, individuals did not report a significant decrease in emotional happiness, underscoring the greater influence of environmental factors and psychological distress on overall wellbeing.

Source: Osaka University

If improving your outlook on life really was as simple as “don’t worry, be happy,” then keeping your spirits up would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple, as a multitude of factors beyond our control can affect our mood.

In a study published in March in Environmental Research, researchers from Osaka University have revealed that contaminants in the environment can have an effect on our lifespan emotional wellbeing.

This shows a dirty smiling emoji.
“Our findings suggest that exposure to carcinogens and psychological distress significantly decrease lifetime happiness,” says Murakami. Credit: Neuroscience News

A recently developed risk assessment tool defined happy life expectancy as the lifespan during which a person experiences subjective emotional wellbeing, while loss of happy life expectancy (LHpLE) was defined as a decrease in the length of positive emotional experiences in an individual’s life. LHpLE is calculated by combining both the reduction in happiness and the increase in mortality associated with risk exposure.

“We previously used the LHpLE indicator to evaluate psychological distress and cancer risk associated with radiation exposure after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident, among other situations,” says lead author of the study Michio Murakami.

“However, this tool has not been used to assess the effects of cancer or exposure to environmental carcinogens on happiness.”

To address this, the researchers surveyed Japanese people to determine their average happiness by age and sex, and evaluate whether cancer reduces emotional happiness. Then, LHpLE was calculated for exposure to common environmental cancer-causing agents in Japan, as well as psychological distress, allowing comparison of the different types of risk exposure.

“The results were intriguing,” explains Shuhei Nomura, young author. “We found that emotional happiness did not decrease significantly in those with cancer, nor was there any significant association between emotional happiness and cancer type, history, or stage.”

Overall, exposure to environmental carcinogens decreased the lifespan emotional happiness by 0.0064 years for radon, 0.0026 years for arsenic, and 0.00086 years for fine particulate matter in the air, owing to their mortality. The decrease in emotional happiness was even more pronounced for psychological distress, which resulted in an LHpLE of 0.97 years.

“Our findings suggest that exposure to carcinogens and psychological distress significantly decrease lifetime happiness,” says Murakami.

Given the clear decrease in lifespan emotional happiness associated with carcinogens, the findings from this study suggest that environmental policies should focus on reducing exposure to these chemicals. Applying this understanding to public health policies could help people live longer, happier lives.

About this environmental neuroscience and psychology research news

Author: Saori Obayashi
Source: Osaka University
Contact: Saori Obayashi – Osaka University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Comparing the risks of environmental carcinogenic chemicals in Japan using the loss of happy life expectancy indicator” by Michio Murakami et al. Environmental Research


Comparing the risks of environmental carcinogenic chemicals in Japan using the loss of happy life expectancy indicator

In this study, we aimed to use the loss of happy life expectancy (LHpLE), an indicator that enables risk assessment considering wellbeing, to compare the risks of environmental carcinogenic chemicals in Japan.

First, we surveyed Japanese people to determine their emotional happiness by age and sex and evaluated whether cancer incidence reduced emotional happiness.

Questionnaires were administered to a general population panel and a panel of patients with cancer in 2022, recruiting a predetermined number of responses of 5000 and 850, respectively.

Second, using the survey data, LHpLE was calculated for radon, arsenic, and fine particulate matter (aerodynamic diameter <2.5 μm; PM2.5) and compared to psychological distress, considering increased mortality and decreased emotional happiness due to these risks.

We discovered no significant decrease in emotional happiness due to cancer incidence and no significant associations between emotional happiness and cancer type, history, or stage. LHpLE was calculated to be 6.4 × 10−3 years for radon, 2.6 × 10−3 years for arsenic, 1.1 × 10−2 years (2012 exposure) and 8.6 × 10−4 years (2020 exposure) for PM2.5, and 9.7 × 10−1 years for psychological distress.

The fraction of losses caused by these carcinogenic chemicals to HpLE exceeded 10−5, suggesting that risk reduction for these chemicals is important in environmental policies.

The LHpLE indicator allows for comparing different types of risks, such as environmental chemicals and psychological distress. This is the first study to compare chemical risks using the LHpLE indicator.

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