Possible bad news for those loving the city life. If your hometown is known for its smog, you’re not doing your brain any favors according to new research. Authors of the report are suggesting breathing air pollution every day could lead to changes in the brain and eventual cognitive issues.
Not exactly stunning news, but it is the first study to look at the links between pollution, brain volume and the risk of silent strokes.
Published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Stroke, the research team used 943 healthy adults over the age of 60 in the New England region. Using MRI scans, the team compared each participant’s brain structure with the air pollution levels of where they lived.
Air Pollution and Brain Volume
Study results found a link between the increase of fine-particle pollution and a reduction in brain volume. An example of fine-particle pollution would be car exhaust.
For every increase of 2 micrograms per cubic meter of fine-particle pollution, there was a 0.32 percent reduction in brain volume.
Study author Elissa H. Wilker, of the cardiovascular epidemiology unit at Beth Israel in Boston, equated it in terms of a brain aging. The reduction in brain volume from air pollution “is equivalent to about one year of brain aging.”
As we get older, loss of neurons due to age gives us smaller brain volume.
With air pollution affecting brain size, researchers also found a 46 percent increase in ‘silent strokes.’ An asymptomatic stroke is found via brain scans. The strokes are linked to dementia and cognitive impairment.
Researchers found participants living in areas with higher pollution had higher risks of ‘silent strokes’ and smaller brain volumes.
Pollution Cause and Effect?
Wilker did note the study was a snapshot in time, and the research is not conclusive on a cause-and-effect relationship between air pollution and brain changes.
Theories about how air pollution affects the brain have centered on inflammation. Researchers believe the increases in air pollution may increase inflammation. In the study, the team cites previous studies linking inflammation with smaller brain volume.
While the research is not going to affect policy, it does give scientists the base for future studies examining the link between air pollution and cognitive function.
For people like us? Common sense steps to cut our contribution to air pollution:
- Try carpooling
- Regular maintenance on your car (check those spark plugs)
- Turn the lights off when you leave a room
- Buy Energy-Star rated products
- If you live in a walkable city, take advantage
Sure, the steps seem small, but they add up. What we do individually can truly impact our world.
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