Small air pollution particles found in the brain stems of young people have been linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Motor Neuron Disease. Researchers have studied the brains of 186 young adults and children in Mexico City who died suddenly, discovering disturbing evidence of harm.
Although previous studies have linked Alzheimer’s with fine particulate air pollution exposure, this time, researchers have also found biomarkers of MND and Parkinson’s coupled with the same distinctive dirty air nanoparticles in the brainstem. The molecular damage has not been found in the other people’s brains of similar age from less polluted areas.
This has led to the conclusion that exposure to air pollution, either by swallowing or inhaling, incurs a higher risk of developing a neurological disease. With over 90% of the world’s children and young adults breathing air that is not safe, researchers are keen to find out more.
After examining the brains of 186 children and young adults aged 11 months to 27 years old, Professor Barbara Maher from Lancaster University told The Guardian that the neurological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MND were found in association with high levels or iron and aluminium-rich substances.
These were “strikingly similar to those which occur as a result of combustion - and friction-derived particles in air pollution (from engines and braking systems).” Some other titanium-rich particles were also found on the gut wall, suggesting that they were likely to be ingested before they reached the brain.
These metal-rich particles can cause inflammation and act as catalysts for the formation of excess reactive oxygen species, which are known to cause death of neurons.
What are the consequences?
When Covid-19 broke loose back in March, scientists warned that air pollution was causing a more dangerous, 'silent pandemic', leading to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart conditions at a much faster, deadlier rate than war, violence and many other diseases.
Figures published by the World Health Organization last month revealed that around 50 million people worldwide are living with forms of dementia, with Alzheimer's accounting for between 60 and 70 percent of cases.
Speaking to The Echo, Professor of Chemistry John Sodeau has said that since the 2000s, scientists have continuously linked air pollution to brain deterioration in children, adults and dogs living in urban areas. He also explained that the most worrying aspect of current findings relates to other problems with movement and gait, which may occur long before an actual cognitive disease settles in.
Although further research is needed to confirm whether these dirty air particles can indeed cause neurological damage, it’s clear that the control of nanoparticulate air pollution sources needs urgent control.
What can you do to reduce the risk?
Directly or indirectly, we are all responsible for the quality of air in our cities. Reducing our carbon footprint, purchasing locally-sourced products, recycling and embracing a more circular economy are some of the steps we can all take to make our planet a safer place for us and our children.
Do you suffer from a cognitive disease?
Sova Healthcare has been at the forefront of the home care industry aiming to change the face of ageing. As a leading provider of domiciliary care services, we continue to deliver specialist personal support to those suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
We are committed to raising the standards in the care sector, in a way that is both accessible and affordable. Contact our team and find out how we can help you.