Air Pollution impacts brain in long term: Research

Exposure to Air pollution in a long term can have detrimental effect on the brain, according to a new study involving MRI scans conducted on 943 healthy adults. The research team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for study subjects above 60 years of age in New England region and compared their brain structure and size. The study results were compared to pollution levels at the place of residence of the study subjects.

With 2 micrograms per cubic meter higher pollution of fine-particle, the brain volume reduced by 0.32 percent on an average, according to the research team. Car exhaust and other vehicle related pollution is the main cause of fine-particle pollution.

The research team also found higher risk of silent stroke among individuals living in more polluted environment. A silent stroke can be noticed in brain scans has lacks the usual symptoms. Silent strokes increase the risk of dementia and also lead to poor cognitive function. With 2 micrograms per cubic meter increase in pollution, the risk of silent stroke was higher by 46 percent.

Elissa H. Wilker, a researcher in the cardiovascular epidemiology research unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston said, “That amount of change in brain volume "is equivalent to about one year of brain aging. The new results may help the researchers understand what could be going on between air pollution and serious outcomes like stroke and cognitive impairment.”

The research team could not find how pollution can bring a change in brain volume and structure. Long term exposure to air pollution could lead to inflammation in brain. More research will be required on the subject to establish a clear link between air pollution and brain volume.

The study is the first of its kind to find a link between pollution and risk of stroke among older adults. Earlier studies have checked the impact of pollution of children’s brain and general development.

The detailed study findings have been published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.