• Saturday, March 02, 2024


It’s official – exposure to air pollution linked to dementia

Approximately 900,000 people in the UK suffer with dementia.


By: Kimberly Rodrigues

It is estimated that about 900,000 people in the UK suffer with dementia. Also, a study in The Lancet in 2018 suggested that about 60,000 of the 209,600 new cases of dementia diagnosed in the country each year could be due to poor air quality, The Times reports.

Dementia is a disabling, degenerative non-communicable disease (NCD) and a growing global issue, says the National Library of Medicine.

A UK government research group has also recently said that air pollution is likely to increase the risk of developing dementia. In fact, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (Comeap), has given the first official recognition that air pollution damages the brain, stated The Times.

The theory that air pollution is a “likely” cause of dementia is reportedly supported by a landmark study. In effect, a total of 70 studies that analyzed how exposure to emissions affects the brain over time were reviewed before Comeap published its findings, the Guardian stated.

Additionally, a panel of government experts reportedly said, “There is evidence that air pollution, particularly particulate air pollution, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including cerebrovascular disease. These diseases are known to have adverse effects on cognitive function. It is, therefore, our view that there is likely to be a causal association between particulate air pollution and effects on cognitive function in older people.”

There is also now well-established evidence that shows that the risk of heart disease is also increased with exposure to air pollution.

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The British Heart Foundation says blood vessels can be damaged when people breathe in emissions – the blood vessels become narrower and harder which increases the possibility of blood clots, heart attacks, and abnormal heart rhythms.

Speaking about the health hazards of air pollution, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s transport campaigner, Gavin Thomson is reported to have told the Daily Mail: “Today’s report from the UK government is further evidence that air pollution is devastating for human health, and it’s really worrying to see the links with dementia being strengthened.

“We have known for a long time that traffic fumes cause asthma and heart conditions, and evidence has been growing about the risk that tiny particles — from exhaust fumes, tyres and brakes — pose to our cognitive health.”

Research by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has found that wood-burning stoves produce more fine particle pollution than all the road traffic in Britain, said The Times.

Previous research shows that the minute airborne pollution particles can cause heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory conditions including asthma.

Exposure to air pollution, especially fine particulate matter is also considered to increase the risk of insulin resistance, endothelial dysfunction a type of non-obstructive coronary artery disease, oxidative stress, atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries ), enhanced propensity toward coagulation inflammation, and stroke – all of which raises the risk of cognitive decline and dementia informs The National Library of Medicine.

Experts believe that pollution particles damage blood vessels in the brain. This in turn, reduces the supply of oxygen to its cells, said The Times.

Also, some scientists are of the opinion that pollution particles may enter the brain directly when it is breathed in, and this could trigger an immune response, causing inflammation that is linked to dementia.

With regard to the recent findings, Sarah Woolnough, chief executive at Asthma + Lung UK, told The Times: “This report is yet further evidence that the dirty air we breathe into our lungs every day has a significant impact on our health. Not only does it cause lung conditions like lung cancer and trigger conditions like asthma, but it’s becoming ever more clear that it also contributes to dementia and heart disease.

“This is a public health emergency that is affecting people from the cradle to the grave, and that’s why as a charity we’re urging the government to commit to tougher legal limits in October 2022 which will curb the levels of the most harmful form of air pollution to human health (PM2.5) by 2030, rather than current proposals which delay compliance until 2040.”

PM2.5 is formed of airborne particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (about a twentieth of the breadth of a human hair). The sources of PM2.5 include fossil fuels. According to the WHO it is the single largest environmental threat to health, informs The Times.

Sarah adds, “As the evidence relating to the health effects of air pollution continues to grow, we cannot risk forcing another generation to grow up breathing dangerous air that is harming their lungs and future health.”

Eastern Eye

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