For several decades, substantial evidence has accumulated that air pollution is bad for your cardiovascular system and lungs. Since the brain is one of the most vascular organs in the body, it should not surprise us that air pollution is bad for it too. [Remember one of the tenets of brain health-keep the plumbing intact]. Research supporting this idea, however, has been slower to come to light. Recently, however, have noticed several news items showing how air pollution:
- Appears to affect development of childhood brains and lead to long term impairments in intelligence. Studies have found worse scores on tests of memory as well as verbal and nonverbal IQ. Studies have also uncovered more attention problems, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some studies have also found increased rates of suicide.
- Can also affect adult brains by damaging arterial health, leading to poor circulation and stroke like changes.
- Likely accelerates the aging of the brain and cognitive decline. Higher levels of air pollution were associated with the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles associated with Alzheimers disease. Some experts say that air pollution should be considered a risk factor Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease!
The more I read about this issue, the more grateful I am that I don’t live in a badly polluted city like Beijing. Imagine all the hundreds of millions of people around the world who’s brain & health is declining at a more rapid pace, simply because of where they live? From merely economic perspective, you’d think there would be huge incentive to urgently finds ways to drastically curb pollution to 1) save massively on healthcare [less lung disease, heart attacks, strokes and 2) increase lifetime productivity of its citizenry. Unfortunately, no matter how little pollution gets generated where you live, it eventually all spreads and diffuses around the earth. Sooner or later, each and every one of us is affected.
In addition to smog and outdoor air pollution, indoor air pollution can also be bad for your brain. Keeping your house well ventilated can make a difference here, as can HEPA filters.
Perera FP, Chang H-w, Tang D, Roen EL, Herbstman J, et al. (2014) Early-Life Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and ADHD Behavior Problems. PLoS ONE 9(11): e111670. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111670
Long-term air pollution exposure is associated with neuroinflammation, an altered innate immune response, disruption of the blood-brain barrier, ultrafine particulate deposition, and accumulation of amyloid beta-42 and alpha-synuclein in children and young adults. Toxicol Pathol. 2008 Feb;36(2):289-310