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Air Pollution May Be Making Us Less Intelligent

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Air Pollution May Be Making Us Less Intelligent

 

Barbara Maher, Lancaster University

Not only is air pollution bad for our lungs and heart, it turns out it could actually be making us less intelligent, too. A recent study found that in elderly people living in China, long-term exposure to air pollution may hinder cognitive performance (things like our ability to pay attention, to recall past knowledge and generate new information) in verbal and maths tests. As people age, the link between air pollution and their mental decline becomes stronger. The study also found men and less educated people were especially at risk, though the reason why is currently unknown.

We already have compelling evidence that air pollution – especially the tiniest, invisible particulates in pollution – damages the brain in both humans and animals. Traffic pollution is associated with dementia, delinquent behaviour in adolescents, and stunted brain development in children who attend highly polluted schools.

In animals, mice exposed to urban air pollution for four months showed reduced brain function and inflammatory responses in major brain regions. This meant the brain tissues changed in response to the harmful stimuli produced by the pollution.

We don’t yet know which aspects of the air pollution particulate “cocktail” (such as the size, number or composition of particles) contribute most to reported brain deterioration. However, there’s evidence that nanoscale pollution particles might be one cause.

These particles are around 2,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, and can be moved around the body via the bloodstream after being inhaled. They may even reach the brain directly through the olfactory nerves that give the brain information about smell. This would let the particles bypass the blood-brain barrier, which normally protects the brain from harmful things circulating in the bloodstream.

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Postmortem brain samples from people exposed to high levels of air pollution while living in Mexico City and Manchester, UK, displayed the typical signs of Alzheimer’s disease. These included clumps of abnormal protein fragments (plaques) between nerve cells, inflammation, and an abundance of metal-rich nanoparticles (including iron, copper, nickel, platinum, and cobalt) in the brain.

Automobiles are a major cause of the world’s air pollution.
Tao55/ Shutterstock

The metal-rich nanoparticles found in these brain samples are similar to those found everywhere in urban air pollution, which form from burning oil and other fuel, and wear in engines and brakes. These toxic nanoparticles are often associated with other hazardous compounds, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons that occur naturally in fossil fuels, and can cause kidney and liver damage, and cancer.

Repeatedly inhaling nanoparticles found in air pollution may have a number of negative effects on the brain, including chronic inflammation of the brain’s nerve cells. When we inhale air pollution, it may activate the brain’s immune cells, the microglia. Breathing air pollution may constantly activate the killing response in immune cells, which can allow dangerous molecules, known as reactive oxygen species, to form more often. High levels of these molecules could cause cell damage and cell death.

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The presence of iron found in air pollution may speed up this process. Iron-rich (magnetite) nanoparticles are directly associated with plaques in the brain. Magnetite nanoparticles can also increase the toxicity of the abnormal proteins found at the centre of the plaques. Postmortem analysis of brains from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease patients shows that microglial activation is common in these neurodegenerative diseases.
The latest study of the link between air pollution and declining intelligence, alongside the evidence we already have for the link between air pollution and dementia, makes the case for cutting down air pollution even more compelling. A combination of changes to vehicle technology, regulation and policy could provide a practical way to reduce the health burden of air pollution globally.

However, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves. Driving less and walking or cycling more can reduce pollution. If you have to use a car, driving smoothly without fierce acceleration or braking, and avoiding travel during rush hours, can reduce emissions. Keeping windows closed and recirculating air in the car might help to reduce pollution exposure during traffic jams as well.

Reducing vehicle use by walking or cycling instead could have a major impact on air pollution levels.
Nick Starichenko/ Shutterstock

But young children are among the most vulnerable because their brains are still developing. Many schools are located close to major roads, so substantially reducing air pollution is necessary. Planting specific tree species that are good at capturing particulates along roads or around schools could help.

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Indoor pollution can also cause health problems, so ventilation is needed while cooking. Open fires (both indoors and outdoors) are a significant source of particulate pollution, with woodburning stoves producing a large percentage of outdoor air pollution in the winter. Using dry, well-seasoned wood, and an efficient ecodesign-rated stove is essential if you don’t want to pollute the atmosphere around your home. If you live in a naturally-ventilated house next to a busy road, using living spaces at the back of the house or upstairs will reduce your pollution exposure daily.

Finally, what’s good for your heart is good for your brain. Keeping your brain active and stimulated, eating a good diet rich in antioxidants, and keeping fit and active can all build up resilience. But as we don’t yet know exactly the mechanisms by which pollution causes damage to our brains – and how, if possible, their effects might be reversed – the best way we can protect ourselves is to reduce or avoid pollution exposure as much as possible.The Conversation

Barbara Maher, Professor, Environmental science, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Bombers Who Carried Out Attacks In Sri Lanka Were Well Educated – Investigators

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Bombers Who Carried Out Attacks In Sri Lanka Were Well Educated - Investigators

Investigation into Sri Lanka Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 350 persons entered a fourth day on Wednesday.

Investigators say the suicide bombers who struck churches and hotels were all well-educated, middle-class Sri Lankans.

There were nine of them, eight men and one woman — including the man described as the leader of the homegrown, militant Islamist group that was blamed for the attack.

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Indian intelligence officials revealed it was the last in a series of unheeded alerts, including an intelligence memo, written at least 10 days before the bombings, that warned of attacks on churches.

President Maithripala Sirisena has requested the resignations of defense secretary, Hemasiri Fernando, and Inspector General of Police, Pujith Jayasundara.

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Meanwhile, victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka were laid to rest on Tuesday, with one funeral procession following another all day.

Giving the victims in Negombo a Christian burial essentially required a mass grave, and a whole new cemetery had to be hastily dug to bury more than a hundred bodies. The graves are simple mounds, covered in flowers.

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Family, neighbors and friends looked on, still trying to absorb the community’s staggering loss.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Condemns Trump Silence On Saudi Mass Execution

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Iranian Foreign Minister Condemns Trump Silence On Saudi Mass Execution

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif has criticised the administration of US president Donald Trump for not condemning a mass execution of prisoners in Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia beheaded 37 of its citizens for what it said were “terrorism”-related crimes, publicly pinning two of the bodies to a pole as a warning to others.

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Tehran and Washington have taken in tit-for-tat measures to label each other’s military as “terrorist” recently, following Trump administration’s decision on Monday to end waivers for country’s importing oil for Iran.

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Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said in a statement that the prisoners were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives, killing a number of security officers, and cooperating with “enemy organizations” against the interests of the country.

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Rights groups say each year, between 2015 and 2017, Saudi Arabia executed at least a hundred fifty prisoners.

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North Korea’s Kim Arrives In Russia Ahead Of Summit With Putin

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North Korea's Kim Arrives in Russia Ahead of Summit With Putin

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has arrived in the Russian city of Vladivostok ahead of his planned summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

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Russian state television showed Kim stepping out of his green private train at a railway station in the Eastern Port City, Wednesday afternoon under a leaden sky.

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Kim and Putin are set to meet for the first time Thursday, but there is no plan to sign any agreements or make a joint statement.

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Kim’s visit to North Korea’s northern neighbor comes amid an impasse in the nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

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