Air Pollution: Environmental Pollutant Linked To Mental Diseases

Air pollution has become a major global health challenge. Studies have placed deaths resulting from air pollution above that caused by malaria and HIV/AIDS put together. Although air pollutants have been linked with lung and heart diseases, there are new evidences that air pollution may be associated with degenerative brain diseases like cognitive disorder, mental illness and Alzheimer's disease.

The effects of air pollution on the blood vessel have been well documented over the years. It is common knowledge that high level of environmental exposure to air pollutants is linked with increased risk of strokes and heart attacks. However, a recent study in environmental science has revealed how toxic pollutants in the air can permanently affect blood vessels in the brain which could lead to serious neural malfunction. This was highlighted in an experiment with dogs, where it was discovered that particles air pollution is shown to cause CNS damage by altering the blood-brain barrier. The resultant effect is the degeneration of neurons in the cerebral cortex and damaging of cells in the white matter, among others. These changes to the brain structure, over a long period of time, are seen as the cause of certain mental disorders and ailments.

According to recent environmental pollution research studies, toxic nanoparticles have been implicated in the link between air pollution and mental disorders and diseases. These air pollutants have been found in large quantities in the brain. The discovery of these nanoparticles from air pollution has raised a lot concern among environmental health specialist because these particles may be associated with Alzheimer's disease.

One significant environmental pollutant that has been implicated in the link between air pollution and the brain disease is magnetite, an iron oxide. A report published by the National Academy of Sciences found a large amount of this chemical when it examined brain tissue from 37 people, between the ages of 3 and 92, from two countries. Environmental science researchers where amazed when they found millions of magnetite particles per gram of freeze-dried brain tissue. Magnetite as a toxic chemical is potentially significant in the build to Alzheimer's disease because it may create free radicals which lead to oxidative cell damage. This feature happens to be the pattern of Alzheimer's disease.
Although magnetites are formed in the human brain as small, crystalline shapes, environmental science studies have found out that magnetite from air pollution appears to be large and spherical. This extraordinary abnormal accumulation of magnetite in the brain is seen as a key feature which environmental health researchers believe may be the link to Alzheimer's disease.
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This distinctively large, spherical nano-sized magnetite is formed as molten droplets of materials from combustion sources. This includes industrial processes, car exhausts, power stations and fuel burning activities. According to reports, these large spherical magnetites are so abundant in the brain that for every crystal shape magnetite, there are about a 100 air pollutant magnetite. A study of a roadside air in Lancaster showed 200 million magnetite particles per cubic metre. 

While most environmental science researchers believe most of these air pollutants (magnetite) in brain samples are as a result of air pollution, their link to Alzheimer's disease remain speculative as more research studies need to be carried out to answer certain questions in areas such as regional variations within the brain, area of exposure and the possibility of lab contamination. Although there has no link between these magnetite and Alzheimer's disease, it is important to note that magnetite has been found in high concentrations in brain tissues of Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease has been associated with air pollution. Several environmental and medical studies which show brain damage relating to Alzheimer's disease have been seen in children and young adults who have had environmental exposure to air pollutants. Unsurprisingly, dementia in older men and women has also been associated with air pollution.

The mode of entry for these air pollutants is specific. They do not need to cross the brain-blood barrier. They can directly enter into the brain through the olfactory region through the nose (an early indicator of Alzheimer's disease is the apparent loss of the sense of smell). Once in the brain, the can spread to areas such as hippocampus and cerebral cortex (areas of the brain affected in Alzheimer's disease).

These evidences only serve as a means to point us toward making policies that would considerably reduce the burden of these environmental pollutants on human health. More importantly, practical ways should be encouraged by each one of us to lower our risk to these mental disorders. This should include eating a healthy diet, regularly exercising and avoid smoking. 

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