Exposure to Air Pollution Causes Dementia, Study Suggests

We’ve known for years that air pollution can have a negative impact on our health, particularly our lungs. But new research shows that it could also be damaging our brains.

The study, which involved just under 1,000 people and was led by Elissa Wilker of the Harvard Medical School, shows that long-term exposure to air pollution could lead to significant changes in the brain. Wilker’s research reveals that these changes could eventually result in serious memory problems.

The culprits in all of this are tiny particles measuring no more than 2.5 micrometers. They’re released into the air through car exhaust, the burning of wood, etc. Exposure to this kind of pollution can, over a long period of time, lead to many “silent strokes” that–while not resulting in any visible symptoms–could eventually have the same effect as one very serious stroke.

Wilker’s report says that exposure to these tiny particles is associated with “insidious effects of brain aging,” even in people who are otherwise very healthy. The report goes on to suggest that long-term exposure to significant air pollution could advance the aging of one’s brain by a full calendar year.

The study involved people from Framingham, Massachusetts, a community not far from Boston-based Harvard. None of the 943 participants showed any signs of dementia or had ever endured a significant stroke before the study began. They all underwent MRIs to show how their brains changed over a ten-year period (1995 to 2005). The result: exposure to even a small amount of air pollution resulted in a 0.3-percent reduction in brain size and a 46-percent increased risk of silent stroke.

Scientists still aren’t sure why pollution is having this kind of impact on the brain but speculate that it could cause this very important organ to become inflamed.


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