Air pollution may increase the chance of developing dementia, a study has suggested, in fresh evidence that the health of people of all ages is at risk from breathing dirty air.
People over 50 in areas with the highest levels of nitrogen oxide in the air showed a 40% greater risk of developing dementia than those with the least Nitrogen oxide pollution, according to the research, based on data from London.
Air Pollution has already been linked with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases but this is one of the first studies to examine links with neurodegenerative illness. Professor Frank Kelly of Kings College London was quoted as saying;
"The study outcome suggests a linkage between air pollution and dementia but cannot inform on the cause. However, I believe that we now have sufficient knowledge to add air pollution to the list of risk factors for dementia. Our calculations suggest that it elevates risk by 7%, so that would suggest approximately 60,000 of the total 850,000 dementia cases in the UK, in mathematical terms.”
These findings start to add to the mounting evidence that air pollution has a wide range of effects, as PM2.5 particles cross the blood barrier and can enter many of the organs in our body including the brain.
There is some speculation that magnetite particles are one of the culprits as they are commonly found found lodged in amyloid plaques, which have been observed in large quantities in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. While the brain naturally produces magnetite its the over abundance of these that is the concern and researchers were able to detect the differences between particles that are naturally produced and those absorbed from air pollution thus giving strong evidence for the link between air pollution/magnetite and neurodegenerative illness. Researchers concede that more study is required on this correlation and the pathways associated to establish a more concrete link.
The most convincing evidence so far comes from study of 6.6 million people from Canada published in 2016 that reported a potential link between dementia and living close to very busy roads. The study found that those living within 50 metres of a major road were 7% more likely to develop dementia than people living more than 300 meters away, where fine particulate matter levels can be up to 10 times lower. As there are other factors associated with living on a busy road, such as high noise pollution and stress, this study doesn’t prove that air pollution causes dementia. However, it does suggest that the study of air pollution and dementia should be prioritised for future research.
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