So far, researchers have discovered multiple links between air pollution and various lung diseases. However, a new study suggests harmful compounds in the air could have a devastating effect on human brains, eventually leading to an early onset of Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other mental health disorders. The pollutants, in the form of tiny particles expelled into the air by either cars or power plants, get inhaled by humans and end up in the brain, ultimately increasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s exponentially.
Even though not much had been said so far of the effect air pollution, smoking included, on the human brain, the researchers have gathered enough evidence to support it has devastating effects on the aging brain, says Caleb Finch, study’s co-author at University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
Finch’s team of researchers gathered several samples of contaminated air and exposed female mice to the pollutants. For the experiments, the scientists employed a technology dubbed particle concentration that is able to convert regular urban air into aerosols most commonly found on freeways or in heavily polluted cities like Beijing.
However, the mice already carried a gene that raised their predisposition to the disease. The subjects were exposed to the air samples for 15 weeks. During this time, the mice experienced a 60 percent increase in the levels of the protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease called amyloid plaque, noted the team of researchers.
After observing the mice population’s response to the pollutants, the researchers then analyzed other similar studies conducted in the past with human subjects.
One study, made up of more than 3,600 U.S. women showed that none of the subjects with ages ranging from 65 to 79 from across 48 states had dementia in the beginning. However, as the study was advancing through the years, several subjects started to exhibit early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
After considering certain variables such as health, race, lifestyle, and ethnicity, the scientists concluded by the time the study ended, subjects living in areas where air pollution exceeds federal safety standards had an 81 percent greater risk of cognitive decline and a 92 percent increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
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