Toxic fumes from cars, power plants raise ‘ageing brain’ risk
Invisible particles in the air we breathe may elevate the risk of dementia by 92 per cent, experts have warned. Toxic fumes from cars and power plants are infiltrating brain cells, causing them to swell in response. This leaves the brain at risk of succumbing to the devastating condition, according to a new study.
Experts believe that dangerous levels of pollution in cities could actually be responsible for a fifth of global dementia cases. And scientists also discovered the risk was greater for women – especially if they possess a well-known “dementia gene”.
Researchers from the University of Southern California, United States (U.S.), analysed data of 3,647 women between 65 to 79 who didn’t have dementia.
“Microscopic particles generated by fossil fuels get into our body directly through the nose into the brain,” said study co-author Professor Caleb Finch.
“Cells in the brain treat these particles as invaders and react with inflammatory responses, which over the course of time, appear to exacerbate and promote Alzheimer’s disease. Although the link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease is a new scientific frontier, we now have evidence that air pollution, like tobacco, is dangerous to the aging brain.”
The study, which was published in the Translational Psychiatry journal, is the first of its kind conducted in the US. It noted that women who live in heavily polluted areas – such as near main roads or busy city centres are 81 per cent more at risk for cognitive decline.
Also, a new way of looking at how pollutants ride through the atmosphere has quadrupled the estimate of global lung cancer risk from a pollutant caused by combustion, to a level that is now double the allowable limit recommended by the World Health Organization.
The findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition online, showed that tiny floating particles can grow semi-solid around pollutants, allowing them to last longer and travel much farther than what previous global climate models predicted.
Scientists said the new estimates more closely match actual measurements of the pollutants from more than 300 urban and rural settings.
The study was done by scientists at Oregon State University, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, or PNNL, and Peking University. The research was primarily supported by PNNL.