air pollution and Alzheimer's

Can Air Pollution Cause Damage to the Brain?

Air pollution continues to be an unseen crisis around the world. According to new data from the World Health Organization, 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants and at least 7 million people around the world die every year due to exposure from polluted air.

But just as we thought that we’ve already seen the worst effects of air pollution, a new study suggests that it could also cause damages to the brain and even affect neurodevelopment.

This raises cause for concerns, especially for older people in Alzheimer’s care facilities who are already suffering from significant brain damage due to their condition.


The Study

Lilian Calderon-Garciduenas, a neuropathologist from the University of Montana studied human brain samples from autopsy examinations in Mexico City as part of her research on the effects of the environment on neural development.

After gathering the samples herself, Calderon-Garciduenas’ colleagues prepared the slides where she identified the proteins amyloid-beta and hyperphosphorylated tau that are both linked to Alzheimer’s disease in all 203 brain samples she studied.

But what raised more concern was the fact that these brains belonged not only to seniors who likely spent time in Alzheimer’s care facilities but also in young adults, teenagers, and even children. She said that the youngest of the subjects was just 11 months old.

Calderon-Garciduenas was devastated and she knew that Mexico City’s notoriously polluted air has something to do with this discovery. What used to only be a theory that air pollution causes damage to the brain can now be backed up by research.


The Damage to Neurodevelopment

Although Alzheimer’s disease is common in older people, younger patients who suffer from it raise concerns for health experts. In fact, a report released by the WHO revealed that 93% of children under 15 years old breathe enough polluted air to jeopardize their health. The organization further reported that in 2016, at least 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.

But the worst news of all is the fact that bad air has some really bad effects on the brains of young children.

A WHO research wrote: “Exposure to air pollutants can negatively affect neurodevelopment, resulting in lower cognitive test outcomes and the development of behavioral disorders such as autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Research suggests that both prenatal and postnatal exposure to air pollution represent threats to neurodevelopment.”

This was also supported by a study conducted among 783 children in the Netherlands, which revealed that exposure to PM2.5, small particulate air pollution was “found to cause structural alterations to the cerebral cortex” by the time these children were aged 6 to 10 years old.


The Takeaway

Air pollution is causing serious damage to the brains of both the young and older generations. This should already raise some serious alarms in governments to do something to at least reduce air pollution to secure a better future for everyone.


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