I’ve recently noticed several studies related the effects of long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution on brain function and longevity. The research shows that air pollution may harm the brain and affect cognitive processes negatively.
One study looked at people over the age of 51 and found that those who lived in areas with a lot of air pollution had lower cognitive scores than people who had lived in unpolluted areas. The results were normed to take social status and education level into account. According to Melinda Power, one of the researchers involved in the study, “Traffic-related air pollution appears to cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.” You can listen to Melinda Power speak more about the research on air pollution and cognition in this podcast.
In a second study, conducted at Ohio State University, the research team looked at the effect of pollution particulates in the brain of mice. They found that exposure to pollutants affected the hippocampus- the brain area responsible for learning and memory formation. The exposed mice’s hippocampi had less neuronal growth than those who were not exposed.
Furthermore, the London Telegraph reported last year that the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) had identified as many as 200,000 Britons were exposed to levels of pollution that appeared to shorten their lives significantly–by an average of about two years. The COMEAP study attributed this to the exacerbation of cardiovascular health problems that were likely hastened by the long-term pollution exposure.
This is a burgeoning field of study, and I’m looking forward to seeing additional research findings in this area. It will be interesting to see if in years to come we have people who identify as suffering from “pollution-related cognitive decline” who seek solutions for improving brain function.