Brain "dries out" from contaminated air

A study by scientists at the University of Southern California (USA) has shown how poor environmental conditions affect the likelihood of dangerous neurodegenerative disease. Elderly women living in areas with high levels of air pollution will be more likely to show reductions in the volume of some parts of the brain - a pathological change characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, according to News Medical Life Sciences.

According to statistics, annually about 4.2 million people die as a result of exposure to polluted air, and another 3.8 million - from domestic polluted air (such as smoke from stoves).

Many of today's studies focus on how fine particulate matter contained in the air contributes to disease development. For example, it is already known that chronic exposure to particles 2.5 micrometers in size and less leads to the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. In a new study, scientists have focused on how long-term exposure to small particles affects the brain of older people and promotes neurodegeneration.

The participants were 712 women who were not diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. They were all divided into groups according to the level of exposure to contaminated air.

At the beginning of the study, they were given an MRI scan of the brain. Based on the results of the scans, they were assigned scores from 0 to 1: the higher the score, the more pronounced were the cognitive disorders typical of Alzheimer's disease. The scanning was repeated after five years of observation.

As a result, scientists found that exposure to contaminated air for several years was associated with a decrease in the size of some parts of the brain: the difference in images "before" and "after" was significant. This directly indicated the accelerated development of Alzheimer's disease. And with each increase in pollution level by 3 µg/m3 the risk of disease development increased by 24%.

The authors of the study recorded a decrease in brain size not only in women who lived in areas with high levels of contamination, but also in those who were exposed to lower levels of exposure.

The findings once again highlight the real risk that air pollution poses to human health. Scientists hope that this will encourage governments in different countries to implement strategies to reduce air pollution and protect public health.

Nov. 19, 2020, 11:19 a.m.

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