Health Concerns Rise: Stronger Evidence Points to Air Pollution as a Contributor to Dementia and Stroke
A new study conducted by UK researchers delves into the intricate relationship between air pollution and the onset of dementia and stroke, shedding light on the profound impact of polluted air on brain health.
Stroke, the second-leading cause of global mortality, and dementia, affecting approximately 50 million people worldwide, are now being scrutinized in the context of long-term exposure to air pollution.
Unmasking the Invisible Threat
The study, based on data from over 413,000 participants in the UK Biobank project, explored the transition from a healthy state to experiencing a stroke, dementia, or both.
Participants, aged between 40 and 69 years and initially free of dementia, cancer, or stroke, were tracked over 11 years.
The research considered lifestyle factors such as smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, diet, and socioeconomic status. Of the participants, 6,484 had a stroke, 3,813 developed dementia, and 376 experienced both conditions.
Air Pollution’s Long-Term Impact
The findings revealed compelling associations between long-term air pollution exposure and the risk of acquiring dementia, particularly after a stroke.
Prof Frank Kelly from Imperial College London emphasized the significance of these findings, pointing out the role of air pollution even at concentrations below current UK air quality standards.
Kelly stated, “Not meeting the [World Health Organization] guideline as soon as possible means that thousands more people are on the path to developing serious illness such as stroke and dementia simply because they are unable to breathe clean air.”
A government committee of experts in 2022 already acknowledged the likelihood of air pollution accelerating cognitive decline in the elderly and increasing the risk of dementia. Further reviews have reinforced the link between air pollution and frailty, cognitive impairment, and overall decline in the elderly.
Meanwhile, at the University of Manchester, Professor Gordon McFiggans and his team are conducting experiments to pinpoint which air pollutants impact brain health.
Using a specially designed facility, volunteers over 50 with a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s are exposed to standardized mixtures simulating concentrations found in urban smogs.
Brain tests, lung cell exposure, and particle collection are part of the comprehensive study aimed at providing policymakers with quantifiable evidence for source-oriented guidance on pollution reduction and avoidance.
As research progresses, the silent toll of air pollution on brain health becomes increasingly apparent, underscoring the urgent need for cleaner air and informed policies to safeguard public health.