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Researchers uncover more evidence linking air pollution to brain inflammation and dementia: 'Significant and concerning health effects'

The neurological impact of toxic substances in the environment isn't limited to a single condition.

The neurological impact of toxic substances in the environment isn't limited to a single condition.

Photo Credit: iStock

From asthma to heart disease, ADHD to lung cancer, mood disorders to hormonal issues — It's clear air pollution harms our health.

Worse, we may just be at the beginning of realizing the damage a contaminated atmosphere (largely created by burning coal, gas, and oil for energy) can do to cause and intensify dire medical conditions

Recent research out of Denmark is particularly troubling. In a study tracking pollution's impact on dementia diagnoses over decades, researchers concluded that "long-term exposure to air pollution leads to increased risk [of] dementia" in the country, reported Medical Xpress

What's happening?

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen conducted a 27-year longitudinal study beginning in 1993 on how air pollution affects dementia risk, focusing on over 25,000 female nurses in the region. 

The results pointed to "significant and concerning health effects," said Professor Zorana Jovanovic Andersen, one of the study's authors, in Medical Xpress. The more that research participants encountered polluted air over time, the stronger the likelihood of brain inflammation and dementia. It's a distressing connection, and it generally held even when scientists adjusted for lifestyle, socioeconomic status, and road traffic noise exposure

Danish air pollution levels are comparatively modest, noted Andersen. (For reference, April 2024 data on Numbeo show New York City has a much higher "moderate" air pollution rating than Copenhagen's "very low" distinction.)  Nevertheless, Andersen emphasized the importance of taking the research seriously. 

Why is this important?

It's somewhat dystopian that simply breathing air could increase the chance of developing a debilitating diagnosis.

But, as the Danish study showed, it's our reality — and the neurological impact of toxic substances in the environment isn't limited to a single condition. Already, other researchers have found concerning connections between environmental pollution and attention, attraction, and anxiety.

That said, knowledge is empowering, especially in identifying ways to reduce risk. "Nurses with higher physical activity had a lower risk of dementia when exposed to air pollution," noted Stéphane Tuffier — who was a research assistant on the studyin Medical Xpress. "This indicates that physical activity might mitigate the adverse effects of air pollution on cognitive decline." 

(Just check the air quality and temperature before that morning jog.)  

What can we do about it?

Additional dementia risk reduction measures include monitoring blood pressure, prioritizing sleep, improving diet, and lowering alcohol consumption

Plus, taking action to lower air pollution levels also benefits your brain — no doctor's visit necessary.

Small shifts like driving less, shopping secondhand, investing in cleaner home goods, and educating yourself on eco-friendly initiatives can all positively impact the air we breathe so you can look forward to many happy, healthy years ahead. 

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