Is air pollution connected to dementia?

Did you know that air pollution could be linked to an increased risk of developing dementia?

According to an observational study undertaken by researchers and scientists at King’s College London, St Georges, The University of London and Imperial College London, air pollution may bring a heightened risk of developing dementia. The study is published in the ‘British Medical Journal’ (BMJ Open).

“Air pollution is now an established risk factor for heart disease/stroke and respiratory disease, but its potential role in neuro-degenerative diseases, such as dementia, isn’t clear,” the study reported.

Air pollutants in Greater London

Scientists and researchers involved in the study used carefully calculated estimates of air and noise pollution levels across Greater London to assess potential links with new dementia diagnoses. They focused on almost 131,000 anonymous patient health records from patients aged between 50 and 79 who had not been diagnosed with dementia, from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink. Each of the patients were registered at doctors located within the London M25 motorway in the year of the study, 2004.

Using the residential postcodes of the patients, the researchers “estimated their annual exposure to air pollutants, specifically nitrogen dioxide (N02), fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (OZ3) heavy traffic and road noise.”

“During the monitoring period, 2,181 patients (1.7 per cent) were diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Those living in areas in the top fifth of N02 levels had a 40 per cent heightened risk of being diagnosed with dementia compared to those living in the bottom fifth,” the King’s College London News Centre reported this month.

Air pollution in Sydney

According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), geography and weather influence the concentration and dispersal of air pollution in Sydney. Cars and trucks are significant sources of ozone producing pollutants in the Sydney basin. On hot, sunny days, ground level ozone pollution forms photochemical smog from the chemical reaction of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (N0x) mixing in sunlight.

Out city’s basin shape traps air pollution. In summer, cool overnight air drains from the hills towards the sea, picking up pollution from vehicles, industry and homes. Morning sea breezes then push it back over urban areas where it collects more pollution and creates smog. During the cooler months of the year, cold air can trap this pollution close to the ground, where it is seen as a brown haze.

The NSW EPA suggests that communities in Sydney are exposed to particle pollution, which is “harmful to health”, and that “reducing particle pollution will deliver substantial health and economic gains.”

Bodily reactions to air pollutants

Research Professor Frank Kelly from King’s College London said: “We hypothesise that it’s reactions by our body’s immune system to elevation pollution occurring again and again that leads to the eventual tissue damage to the lungs, blood vessels or brain.”

“We know that traffic related air pollution has been linked to poorer cognitive development in young children and continued significant exposure may produce neuro-inflammation and altered brain innate immune responses in early adulthood,” the researchers stated in the study.

If the impact of reducing air pollution is relatively modest, the public health gains will still be significant, especially if reducing exposure to air pollution may delay the progression of dementia.

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