Almost everyone knows that dust can cause multiple health issues, especially with allergies and other lung diseases. But did you know that a recent study has shown air pollution to cause alterations in the way our brains develop? Let’s take a look at how and why this is happening and possible solutions.
According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is basically categorised as “the contamination of an indoor or outdoor environment by a chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.” (Source)
Sources may include domestic combustion devices, vehicles, forest fires, industrial emissions, etc. Most of these pollutants are in the form of very fine, almost microscopic particles.
Often lingering in the air that surrounds us, these particles may easily enter our lungs when we breathe in. Inside the body, these particles can spread throughout the body, even travelling to the brain through blood vessels.
These particles are easily able to cross the brain blood barrier (a crucial protective part of the central nervous system that prevents bacteria, fungi, or other viruses from entering the brain), and reach the ventricles of the brain. Once in the brain, studies have shown that such particles are harder to get rid of, as compared to in other organs.
Particles are able to trigger immune cells which then go on to produce cytokines. These cytokines have a variety of effects on neurocircuits, leading to changes in both physical and emotional wellbeing.
In a recent talk, prominent environmental journalist Beth Gardner spoke about how air pollution is far more consequential on the central nervous system than previously thought to be.
She talked about how a neuropathologist examined puppies living in Mexico City (once named the most polluted city in the world) and how the same markers were found in their brains that are used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in human patients. While examining the brains of young accident victims, 40% of those who lived in polluted places had the same markers of Alzheimer’s.
Along with Alzheimer’s disease, many other recent studies (including this one) have found that air pollution may also cause possible dementia, brain ageing, ADHD, schizophrenia, etc. While these studies are now gaining increasing prominence, most scientists are worried that not enough lawmakers, and people in general, know about these issues.
In terms of solutions, concrete steps taken by governing bodies would easily be the best resolution. However, as changes to policies probably won’t happen overnight, small changes to our individual lifestyles could also help reduce air pollution. Trying renewable energy, or even using shared transport, where safe to do so, might go a long way in cleaning up our atmosphere. Start small, but start now!