Alzheimer’s disease could be worsened by air pollution, research reveals

A recent study has discovered that air pollution from cars, forest fires and power plants is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

The study discovered that seniors with cognitive impairment living in higher polluted areas have more of a chance of developing amyloid plaques in the brain, which is a focal sign of the disease.

These plaques are the main sign of the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, which influences behaviour, cognitive ability and causes memory loss.

All of the participators in the study, a total of 18,178, had dementia or mild cognitive impairment already and lived in the highest polluted areas. The research examined the participators’ brain scans, all of which had a 10 per cent chance of revealing amyloid plaques, compared to those who lived in areas with cleaner air.

From this research, it suggests that air pollution may have caused Alzheimer’s disease in tens of thousands of cases.

Around 40 per cent of the individuals displayed no signs of the plaques on the scans, which hinted they had a different type of dementia.

To estimate the air pollution in each area of the participant, data was used from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The research team examined what is known as “smog”, the critical air pollutant ground-level ozone. Additionally, they analysed PM2.5 which come from vehicle exhausts, forest and grass fires plus the burning of fossil fuels. If the concentrations of these pollutants increased, the probability of a positive PET scan increased steadily too.

Contributing to the study, Dr Gil Rabinovic from the University of California San Francisco’s Memory and Aging Centre, said: “overall concentrations of PM2.5 would not be considered very high to be linked with the plaques.”

“I think it’s very appropriate that air pollution has been added to the modifiable risk factors highlighted by the Lancet Commission on dementia.” Dr Rabinovic said.

The Lancet is one of the oldest and most worldwide-known medical journals, and they declared in 2020 that they were adding air pollution, plus extreme alcohol intake and traumatic brain injury, to the list of risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

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