• Tech Tech

Study reveals one environmental factor may be the key to slowing cognitive decline: 'The brain is better able to recover'

With heart health and brain health linked, it stands to reason that one would affect the other.

With heart health and brain health linked, it stands to reason that one would affect the other.

Photo Credit: iStock

Improvements in air quality have been associated with a deceleration of cognitive decline among older adults.

While the impact of pollution on brain function has been known for some time, less focus has been placed on the impact of better air quality on cognitive ability.

As News-Medical.net detailed, two studies from 2022 have found promising links between improved brain power and a reduction in nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.

The first, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, discovered that lower levels of these two pollutants over the course of a decade resulted in a decreased risk of dementia in a sample of women aged 74 or older.

The second study, published by PLOS Medicine, looked at the same group of over 2,200 women and found that cognitive decline could be delayed by as much as 1.6 years if the levels of these pollutants were reduced. 

Nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter can be created by dirty fuel-powered vehicles, industry, and wildfires, so it's further evidence for why relying less on fuels like coal, oil, and gas and reducing global temperatures that lead to mass burning events is essential.

"We think that when air pollution levels are reduced, the brain is better able to recover from problems associated with poor environmental conditions," assistant professor of research neurology at the University of Southern California's medical school Xinhui Wang said, per News-Medical.net.

Among the reasons why these pollutants might have such a detrimental effect on the brain is the fact they are known to cause damage to the cardiovascular system. With heart health and brain health linked, it stands to reason that one would affect the other.

Meanwhile, News-Medical.net also observed that the negative consequences of poor air quality accumulate in the body over time, so if people are living longer, toxins and particulate matter will be present in higher quantities, increasing associated risk factors. 

While more research is required, and these findings perhaps suggest a link rather than a confirmed cause, the studies provide further reasons why improving air quality can benefit human health.

Driving electric cars — which produce zero tailpipe pollution — closing coal-powered energy plants, reducing plastic use, and increasing the utilization of renewable energy sources like solar and wind are all ways to reduce the types of pollution that these studies suggest accelerate cognitive decline.

The benefits of doing these things go beyond brain health, too, with these pollutants also responsible for warming the planet. Keeping temperatures low will reduce the possibility of extreme weather events — including wildfires, which produce further pollutants — and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths among the global population. 

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider