A new study carried out at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine reveals that the polluted air we inhale can affect our brain and lead to cognitive loss. Experts say that our brain could decrease in size and people who are most exposed are more likely to suffer from strokes or dementia. Study lead author Elissa H. Wilker, Sc.D., who is a researcher at the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston mentioned that the most affected people are the middle-aged to older ones.
The research targeted a number of 943 people who were at least 60 years old. Their health was first reviewed and they were regarded as healthy – that is, none of them suffered from dementia or had a stroke in the past. They lived in New York, Boston and New England, areas, where pollution is not significant. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) was used to analyze the brain functions and structures of all the participants to the study. The images were examined in relation to the pollution levels from the area where the people were living. The aim was to determine what effect pollution has on the brain. The findings were quite surprising. According to the researchers, the brain volume was smaller by 0.32% in relation to an increase of less than 2.5 microgrames of fine-particle pollution per cubic meter. This pollution usually comes from a wide variety of sources. Car exhaust, which is so common in large cities, is one of them.
A representative of the Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Sudha Seshadri, Professor of Neurology, stated that people who live in highly polluted areas are likely to have a brain volume smaller than other people who are the same age, thus pointing to the devastating effects air contamination has.
The scans also revealed that pollution could result in a 46% more chances of a person having a silent stroke if exposed to air pollution. When someone has a silent stroke, he/she is generally unaware of it, as they are asymptomatic, but they can lead to more severe ones in the future. Silent strokes are real even if they are small and people might not feel any discomfort. However, the MRI is able to detect them.
Therefore, fine-particle pollution may be more damaging for the brain than other types of contamination, leading to brain atrophy associated with aging. The results of the study were published in “Stroke”, the American Heart Association journal and are consistent with other studies in the field.
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