Air Pollution: More studies link air pollution to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and learning and memory problems. Fortunately, it is in our power to take steps to address it.
It is a widely proven fact that pollution affects our health—many studies related to air pollution, especially cardiorespiratory problems.
But new studies are being added that show that contaminating microparticles can also affect our neurons.
1. How Does Pollution Affect the Brain?
- There are several aspects in which pollution has been related to our cognitive ability.
- It could influence, at least in part, the onset and evolution of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
- That interferes with blood circulation to the brain. Up to 30% of the strokes that occur each year worldwide could be attributable to pollutants.
- It can cause a decrease in intellectual abilities and memory.
- The concentrations of different environmental pollutants could act as a trigger for migraines in people with this pathology.
“There is a growing number of studies that link pollution and the brain that have set off alarms, although they have yet to be studied in detail,” says Dr Pablo Eguia del Río, member of the Spanish Neurology Society.
2. An Accelerator of Diseases
Any disease related to the brain is much more difficult to study than those related to other organs.
For this reason, categorical origins cannot be established. “We are not saying that pollution causes Alzheimer’s, for example, but that in cities with more pollution, up to twice as many cases have been detected than in places with better air quality,” the neurologist points out.
Twice as many cases of Alzheimer’s are detected in cities with high pollution.
What these studies seem to show is that these neurodegenerative diseases are influenced by pollution.
They are not the only reason for their origin, but you can help them appear or accelerate their development.
Another study conducted in Canada concluded that people who lived within 50 meters of a road were at higher risk of developing dementia.
“These diseases are complex, and their origin is multifactorial with various risk factors,” says Dr Eguia.
For Example, in Alzheimer’s, They Include
- Genetic predisposition increases the frequency if you have a first degree relative to the disease and even more if there are several.
- Age: it is more common after 65 years.
- Environmental risk factors, which seem to favour its development.
This last group is where environmental pollution is included, among others.
3. Children With Study Problems
Intellectual performance also appears to be affected by poor air quality.
This is especially true with children and the elderly. “Children are more vulnerable since their brain is developing,” remarks the neurologist.
Children are more vulnerable because they are developing.
Several studies have shown that pollution can cause a reduction in intellectual abilities and memory.
One of those studies, promoted by Yale University (United States) and Peking Normal University (China), observed that after three years of high exposure to pollutants, the people who participated in the research had a cognitive performance similar to that of that losing a year of schooling.
4. The Most Harmful Particles
Almost all studies focus on PM 2.5 particles, which are considered the most harmful to health.
The reason is that they are the smallest particles. They are 2.5 microns or less. A grain of sand, for example, is 70 microns.
With that size, they more easily penetrate our respiratory system and through it into the blood system and reach the entire body, including the brain.
“It has also been proven that the microparticles can reach the brain directly from the nose through the olfactory nerve,” says Dr Eguia.
These particles are produced mainly by combustion in vehicle engines and industry.
5. How the Nanoparticles Affect
“The mechanism by which small particles of pollution affect the brain is a mystery to be solved, “admits the neurologist Eguia.
In studies carried out on animals, it has been possible to verify how these particles reach the brain’s interior.
The mechanism of how they affect neurons is still a mystery.
Once there, they cause the activation of microglia, the cells in charge of the immune response at the brain level.
These cells are responsible for constantly monitoring and inspecting the central nervous system, cleaning waste, and being very sensitive to changes in their environment.
These foreign particles would activate the microglia, causing a response of chronic neuroinflammation and oxidative stress.
6. What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
It is not in our power to change the air quality of our cities. Although we can put our grain of sand, it will also benefit us.
“Let’s not forget that exercising and maintaining a healthy diet have been proven to benefit our brain health,” recalls the doctor.
Leaving the car and exercising benefits the air to our brain health
- Leaving the car aside and going by bike or walking, or taking the tour by public transport and walking at a good pace, the last part will benefit us and our city.
- Try to go out to the country or the sea whenever you can. The sea breeze is much purer, and some specialists emphasize the importance that especially the little ones who live in cities see vegetation for their emotional balance.