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Air Pollution Linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Damage in Young Brains

Posted by on October 17, 2020 in Environment, Environmental Hazards with 0 Comments

air pollution smog

By Tiffany Doung |  EcoWatch

While it is well known that air pollution negatively harms lungs and hearts, it could also be affecting the brains of young people.

Tiny air pollution particles make their way up to the brainstems of young people where they accumulate, new research published in the journal Environmental Research showed. These same nanoparticles have been “intimately associated” with the molecular damage that serves as a hallmark for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, The Guardian reported. That linkage could have global implications if confirmed because 90% of people currently live with toxic outdoor air, another Guardian article reported.

Alzheimer's Society defines air pollution as being made up of several different components including gases, chemical compounds, metals and tiny particles known as particulate matter. When we breathe and eat, these nanoparticles enter our bodies and circulate through our bloodstream to the brain, where they can accumulate in the brain stem, The Guardian reported.

The researchers found abundant pollution nanoparticles and evidence of nerve cell growths, plaque and tangles that are linked to neurological disease in the brainstems of 186 young people (ages 11 months to 27 years) from Mexico City who died suddenly, reported First Post.

“The iron-and aluminum-rich nanoparticles found in the brainstem are strikingly similar to those which occur as combustion- and friction-derived particles in air pollution (from engines and braking systems),” said Barbara Maher, part of the research team, reported Science Alert.

In addition to the high presence of particulate matter, the brainstems also showed signs of early and progressive neurovascular nerve damage, First Post reported. The way these particles reacted with brain cells could increase oxidative stress and eventually lead to death of neurons, the report said.

The participants had all experienced lifelong exposure to particulate pollution, Study Finds reported. Brains of similarly-aged people from less-polluted areas did not display the same disease markers, The Guardian reported.

According to CNN, Mexico City has struggled with dangerous air pollution levels for decades. Statista found that the capital city reported an average particulate matter concentration in 2019 more than double the World Health Organization's recommended maximum average concentration. Air pollution rates in the majority of major cities exceed the same safe level of pollution, Alzheimer's Society reported.

Other studies have linked higher pollution levels to increased rates of different mental health diseases and wellness issues. One study similarly found that living in cities with high air pollution put children at higher risk of Alzheimer's and suicide. The researchers in that study also found that Alzheimer's disease started in the brainstem of young urbanites who'd been exposed to high levels of particulate matter and called high pollution levels “a serious health crisis.”

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