Pollution and brain health

In today’s post we want to delve into the effects of pollution on our health from the point of view of other members of the scientific community. Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers pollution the greatest environmental risk factor for human health, being in 2012 responsible for 23% of mortality globally. Over the years it has been possible to establish a strong relationship between pollution and certain pathologies, and its negative effects on the respiratory system as well as the circulatory system have been demonstrated, but nowadays it is increasingly beginning to be seen that other systems, such as be the nervous or digestive, could become affected.

A comment published in the scientific journal Nature by doctors D.A. Cory-Slechta and M. Sobolewski from the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester (New York) indicate that pollution plays a role in multiple brain disorders, such as cognitive decline. These affectations can be produced by mechanisms such as inflammation caused by the presence of polluting particles that, in the long run, cause damage to neurons. This phenomenon, however, is not produced by a slight or momentary exposure, but with the continued presence of pollutants in the environment throughout the life of an individual. According to the WHO, as can be seen in the following map, almost the entire planet presents percentages of the population exposed to levels of contamination between 80 and 100% above those recommended by the organization, for 2017.

Image from “Our World in Data”, shows the share of the population exposed to outdoor concentrations of particulate matter (PM) that exceed the WHO guideline value (10 micrograms per cubic metre a year). The darker the red, the more proportion of the population in that region that is exposed to levels above 10 ug/m3/year. This is the lower range of the WHO recommendations for exposure to air pollution over which effects on human health are observed. In Spain, in 2017, between 40 and 60% of the population was exposed to levels higher than those recommended.

The comment published in Nature also mentions the complex mechanisms by which polluting particles act on organs and how these mechanisms can especially affect groups of the population, such as fetal development, since it is one of the life stages most vulnerable.

For these reasons, the need for cohort studies stands out, such as the one we are carrying out in BiSC, which delve into the impact of pollution not only in the general population, but also in vulnerable groups in order to create strategies that reduce environmental pollution and protect the health of the population.

You can find an interview in which this Nature publication is discussed by clicking here (content in English).

This post has been written by Adrià Sentís, data manager at the BiSC Project.