Poor Air Quality may be a contributor to Alzheimer’s
What if poor air is bad for the brain, to such an extent that it can contribute to Alzheimer’s? A recent study indicates air pollutants, including smog, may be a heavy contributor to memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The findings of a large, ongoing study, identified that continuous, long-term exposure to poor air quality could increase the speed of cognitive decline in women of an older age. Those women who spent a large majority of their time in areas with bad quality air scored lower on memory and thinking tests, than those women who lived and worked in areas with cleaner air.
Being exposed continuously to air that is polluted, contributed to the equivalent of a 2-year decline in brain ability, leading to earlier onsets of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Over a 40-year timespan, this equates to approximately 2 million cases of Alzheimer’s.
The report, which appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine, looks at the impact of air pollution on the health of the brain.
As many factors are involved, finding a direct connection between toxins discovered in the environment and the cause of Alzheimer’s is difficult. However, the study, which took place over four years, involving an audience of 19,000 + women who lived in different parts of America, examined the thinking skills of this vast group.
“Unlike other factors that may be involved in dementia, such as diet and physical activity, air pollution is something we can intervene on as a society at large through policy, regulation and technology,” said Jennifer Weuve, assistant professor at the Rush Medical College in Chicago and the principal investigator of the study. “If our findings are confirmed in other research, air pollution reduction is a potential means for reducing the future population burden of age-related cognitive decline, and eventually, dementia.”
Pollutants found in the air that contains metals and chemicals become suspended in the air, and those fine particles can be particularly damaging, being embedded deep into lungs and possibly penetrating the brain.
Previous studies found that levels of a toxic protein, called beta-amyloid, can build up in the brain of individuals with Alzheimer’s, particularly those living in cities with high pollution. A report from Germany established that women living by busy roads achieved poorer results on both memory and thinking tests, compared to women of a similar age, who lived in rural areas. Black carbon, produced from traffic has been linked to a poorer cognitive function in a study from China.
Source: Jennifer Weuve, Robin C. Puett, Joel Schwartz, et al: “Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution and Cognitive Decline in Older Women.” Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 172 (No. 3), pages 219-227, 2012.
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