According To New Research Human Brains Exposed To Long-Term Air Pollution Don’t Perform Very Well
According To New Research Human Brains Exposed To Long-Term Air Pollution Don’t Perform Very Well, Air pollution has damaging effects on human cognitive ability, according to new research published in the journal Psychological and Cognitive Science.
Air pollution is a combination of fine particles and harmful ozone gas released by residential, commercial, and industrial combustion of coal and other fossil fuels.
India, Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia all suffer from extreme amounts of air pollution and the burden of this pollution has already been shown to have significant effects on human health.
Research has shown that people who live in areas with polluted air are more likely to die from heart and lung disease, strokes and lung cancer compared with people who live in less polluted areas.
Studies have previously shown the effect that air pollution has on the brains of children and young adults, with inflammation of the brain tissue and disruption of the blood-brain barrier both being consequences of long-term polluted air exposure.
Looking at data from nationwide cognitive tests in China that include verbal and maths questions, the team of international researchers matched those scores for over 31,000 individuals with air quality data from 2010 to 2014 and found that polluted air impairs cognitive ability as people age.
Breathing in dirty air damages our lungs, but new research is showing it might change how we think, too.
A study published earlier this week in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences found that long-term exposure to particulate matter,sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide led to cognitive declines in study participants as they aged. Less-educated men were particularly impacted and had low verbal and math test scores.
Scientists and health officials are still working to discern exactly how air pollutants interact with the brain.
“We speculate that air pollution probably puts greater damage on the white matter in the brain, which is associated with language ability,” says Xin Zhang, a study author and researcher at Beijing Normal University’s school of statistics.
Previous studies have found that female brains on average have more white matter than male brains, meaning damage to white matter would put males, with lesser white matter, more at risk of experiencing cognitive declines.
“More research is needed to understand the mechanisms,” notes Zhang.
While the Chinese study highlights an important link, it will need to be replicated to quantify how air pollution changes the brain, says Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. Only in the past decade has research on air pollution and brain health intensified, he says, noting that how particles enter and coat the lungs is better understood.
“The lungs are the portal of entry,” says Samet. “The area of the lungs is the size of the tennis court, so there’s a huge surface to hit. We breathe in 10,000 liters [of air] a day.”
Like Zhang, Samet says that more research needs to be done to understand the exact mechanisms of how pollution particles enter the brain, what functions they impact, and how long they last once there.
“They could move along the olfactory nerves from the nose to the brain, or they get into the blood,” says Samet. He suspects that damage could also be caused by inflammation.
Thus, pollution affects us every day. Moreover, prolonged exposure to pollutants and harmful gases can cause the following long-term diseases:
- Pulmonary Diseases
Doctors have linked air pollution to many kinds of pulmonary diseases especially in children. Air pollutants can cause diminished lung capacity by up to 20% in children. Also, reports released by The National Institutes of Health state that children who are exposed to pollution in their infancy are four times more likely to develop asthma by the time they reach adulthood.
Another report suggests that people living in areas with high air pollution are at a risk of reduced life by around 1.8 to 3.1 years on an average. Causing hardening of the arteries, air pollution can increase the chances of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. In addition, carbon monoxide in polluted air can lead to impaired brain function, and can cause problems with normal blood function and even death.
- Cancerous Heavy Metals
One of the most toxic parts of polluted air is its particulate content like lead, mercury and arsenic. When inhaled, these can build up in our blood streams causing terrifying results on accumulation. Arsenic can be a cause of cancer, whereas mercury can lead to nerve damage and irregular-birth in women.
As they say, nothing is good in concentrations higher than a particular safe level, and the increasing amount of toxic gases and metals in the air can be fatal to the human body and the environment. While you can only do your bit to help reduce the pollution outside, you can certainly ensure a safe and conducive environment within your home with a Kent Air Purifier, engineered to purify the home from the most stubborn particulate matter observed within India’s metro cities.
People today live longer than they did 70 years ago, when black soot was pumped into the atmosphere. Costa says this could at least partially account for why doctors are just now seeing all the ways air pollution permeates through the body.
“We didn’t appreciate the subtleties that are emerging now,” he adds.
Costa, who until recently worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says particulate matter, which is generated by anything from wildfires to fossil fuel combustion, is largely thought to be the air pollutant most dangerous to health. But pinpointing the impacts of any one particle can be difficult because regions with poor air quality often have more than one type of pollutant.
In the past two decades, EPA data shows the three pollutants identified in the Beijing study have all decreased in the U.S. They remain, however, in developing regions with large urban industrial centers.
In a report published this year, the World Health Organization published a report finding nine in 10 people globally breath bad air. In the U.S., the American Lung Association puts that number at four in 10.
“We’re getting to the point where a lot of easy wins have been done,” says Samet. Coal burning power plants and diesel generators remain some of the most dangerous source of air pollution.
Samet suspects that tackling other forms of air pollution will require a change in mindset in the form of improved public transportation or better city planning.
WASHINGTON — If you are a middle aged or older, and are exposed to polluted air longer durations, you may be at risk of damaging your brain.
A new study led by scientists from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine suggests that long-term exposure can cause damage to brain structures and impair cognitive function in middle-aged and older adults.