Nutrition can modulate the toxicity of environmental pollutants: Implications in risk assessment and human health

Bernhard Hennig, Lindell Ormsbee, Craig J. McClain, Bruce A. Watkins, Bruce Blumberg, Leonidas G. Bachas, Wayne Sanderson, Claudia Thompson, William A. Suk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Background: The paradigm of human risk assessment includes many variables that must be viewed collectively in order to improve human health and prevent chronic disease. The pathology of chronic diseases is complex, however, and may be influenced by exposure to environmental pollutants, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor dietary habits. Much of the emerging evidence suggests that nutrition can modulate the toxicity of environmental pollutants, which may alter human risks associated with toxicant exposures. Objectives: In this commentary, we discuss the basis for recommending that nutrition be considered a critical variable in disease outcomes associated with exposure to environmental pollutants, thus establishing the importance of incorporating nutrition within the context of cumulative risk assessment. Discussion: A convincing body of research indicates that nutrition is a modulator of vulnerability to environmental insults; thus, it is timely to consider nutrition as a vital component of human risk assessment. Nutrition may serve as either an agonist or an antagonist (e.g., high-fat foods or foods rich in antioxidants, respectively) of the health impacts associated with exposure to environmental pollutants. Dietary practices and food choices may help explain the large variability observed in human risk assessment. Conclusion: We recommend that nutrition and dietary practices be incorporated into future environmental research and the development of risk assessment paradigms. Healthful nutrition interventions might be a powerful approach to reduce disease risks associated with many environmental toxic insults and should be considered a variable within the context of cumulative risk assessment and, where appropriate, a potential tool for subsequent risk reduction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)771-774
Number of pages4
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Anti-inflammatory nutrients
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Nutrition
  • Risk assessment
  • Risk reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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