Scientific studies on the effects of air pollution on the human body are beginning to pick up momentum. With the growing number of industrial factories, large farming operations (utilizing industrial fertilizers and pesticides and putting out nitrogen from animal waste into the air), and, of course car exhaust fumes–from the estimated 1.1 billion motor vehicles on the planet–air pollution has never been more worrisome for scientists and environmentalists.
Not only has air pollution been linked to health hazards for aging adults, recent studies indicate that toxic, contaminated air may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s risk and suicide for teens and young adults living in large polluted cities.
Global Air Pollution Statistics
A recent air quality report, conducted by the European Environment Agency (Download) in Copenhagen, Denmark, estimates that nearly 500,000 people died prematurely from air pollutions in 2014. “Air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe,” says the EEA. “Heart disease and stroke are the most common reasons for premature death attributable to air pollution, and are responsible for 80 per cent of cases,” the report says. Air pollution also lends itself to worsening respiratory conditions (such as asthma) and is thought to contribute to cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, as well as pregnancy complications and normal brain development in children.
According to a 2015 report from the Centre for Science and the Environment (CSE), it’s estimated that 10 to 30,000 deaths occur each year in Delhi, India, due to contaminated air. The report identifies air pollution as being the 5th leading cause of death in India. The contamination in India’s air quality is a result of vehicle and industry emissions, waste burning, crop burning, as well as natural sources—such as dust from roads.
Air Pollution in America
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCSUSA.org) reports that nearly 50% of Americans live in regions of the country that are considered below federal air quality standards. Automobile emissions, putting out ozone, smog forming emissions and other particulate matter, is said to be one of the biggest perpetrators of clean air. UCS reports that health risks from air pollution are “extremely serious.” Air pollution “burdens our health care system with substantial medical costs. Particulate matter is single-handedly responsible for up to 30,000 premature deaths each year,” says a recent article, published on ucsusa.org, titled “Vehicles, Air Pollution and Human Health.”
New Study on Air Pollution, Alzheimer’s Symptoms and Suicide
A recent research study, conducted at the University of Montana, discovered that heavily polluted “megacities” may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and suicide in children and young adults.
Researcher, Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueña, physician and toxicologist at UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, examined the results of 203 autopsies for deceased residents (aged 11 months to 40 years) of Mexico City.
Mexico City is known to have extremely high fine particulate matter and ozone levels, above the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency. In the study, researchers isolated 2 abnormal proteins (tau and amyloid) that indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. Even more alarming, scientists discovered symptoms of the disease in babies younger than a year old. “Alzheimer’s disease hallmarks start in childhood in polluted environments, and we must implement effective preventative measures early,” said Calderón-Garcidueñas. “It is useless to take reactive actions decades later,” she added.
Overall, the scientists discovered an early disease process of Alzheimer’s (particularly accelerated for those with the genetic predisposition of Alzheimer’s disease, namely the AP0E4 gene) in residents of Mexico City, who were exposed to very small particulate matter. The pollution is comprised of miniscule particles, small enough to enter the brain through the lungs, nose and GI tract. These particles travel throughout the circulatory system to the brain, and all areas of the body.
The hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (amyloid and tau) in the brain were discovered in 99.5% of those who were exposed to air pollution in Mexico City. Those with the AP0E4 gene were found to have the highest risk of rapid progression of Alzheimer’s in the brain. They were also found to have 4.92 times higher odds of committing suicide than those who were NOT exposed to air pollution.
The research study, published in the Journal of Environmental Research, concluded that exposure to air pollution is considered an important modifiable risk factor for millions of people in the U.S., who are exposed to particulate (small particles) pollution levels. “Neuroprotection measures ought to start very early, including the prenatal period and childhood,” Calderón-Garcidueñas said. “Defining pediatric environmental, nutritional, metabolic and genetic risk-factor interactions are key to preventing Alzheimer’s disease,” she added.