Small particles of soot, or nanoparticles, can travel up the nose and lodge in the brain. It is conceivable that this could interfere with normal brain function and information processing.
10 male volunteers, aged 18 to 39, were placed in a room filled with exhaust from a diesel engine for one hour. After about 30 minutes, EEG brain wave patterns displayed a stress response, suggesting changes in information processing in the brain cortex.
As it turns out, breathing polluted air over the long term not only increases your risk of dying from lung cancer or heart and lung disease, it may also increase your risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, according to this new study.
What are You Breathing?
Air pollution is produced by combustion, such as burning of gas by automobile engines and fuel burning at power plants. It consists of tiny solid and liquid particles that can be inhaled deep into your lungs as you go about your day.
Most particles are microscopic, but you can still see the haze that forms when millions of them blur the spread of sunlight.
These pollutants can cause inflammation in your lungs or prompt your body to release chemicals that can affect heart function. Although science has not been able to pin-point the exact pathway explaining how or why air pollution is so toxic to you, statistics show that as levels of fine particulates and sulfur oxide-related pollution in the environment rises, so does the death rate from lung cancer and cardiopulmonary diseases, which include heart attack, stroke, asthma, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like emphysema and bronchitis.
The differences in the sizes of the particles that make up air pollution make a big difference in how they affect you.
Your natural defenses will help you cough or sneeze larger particles out of your body. But those defenses can’t defend you from smaller particles (smaller than 10 microns in diameter, or about one-seventh the diameter of a strand of human hair).
Those particles get trapped in your lungs, while the smallest are so microscopic they can actually pass through your lungs into your bloodstream, just like the essential oxygen molecules you need to survive.
Health Dangers of Pollution
More than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies have been published on air pollution since 1996, when the EPA last reviewed the standards for particle pollution. These studies prove that there is a very strong relationship between pollution, illness, hospitalization and premature death from any cause.
Researchers are now investigating whether there are any differences in health effects of the three sizes of particles and particles from different sources, such as diesel particles from trucks or sulfates from coal-fired power plants. This study, for example, looks at how diesel fumes might affect your brain function, and the results are less than encouraging.
So far, the evidence remains clear that ALL particles from ALL sources pose significant health hazards.
And, you don’t even need long-term exposure to increase your risk of disease and premature death. According to the latest findings, as reported in the 2007 American Lung Association State of the Air report, SHORT-TERM exposure to pollution has been linked to:
- death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes, including strokes
- increased mortality in infants and young children
- increased numbers of heart attacks, especially among the elderly and in people with heart conditions
- inflammation of lung tissue in young, healthy adults
- increased hospitalization for cardiovascular disease, including strokes and congestive heart failure
- increased emergency room visits for patients suffering from acute respiratory ailments
- increased hospitalization for asthma among children
- increased severity of asthma attacks in children
What Happens When You Pollute Your Brain?
This study, which was published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology, found that the molecular toxicity of diesel exhaust creates oxidative stress-mediated inflammation in your brain cortex. (Inflammation is already considered to be the central causative factor in both pulmonary and systemic diseases from exposure to diesel fumes.)
Your brain is extremely sensitive to damage caused by oxidative stress.
For example, oxidative stress is implicated in the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
This kind of stress in the brain cortex is also found in other psycho-pathological ailments such as:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- traumatic brain injury
The researchers found that the beta waves in the test subjects in this study were significantly affected, whereas the alpha, theta, and delta waves were not altered to any great degree.
So what does that mean?
If you’re in active conversation with someone, you’re in beta. A debater, public speaker or teacher is in high beta. Anytime you’re actively engaged in your work, you’re in beta. It’s certainly not a brain function you’d want to have impaired.
This picture shows how the left side of the frontal cortex is lit up on the test subjects who were exposed to diesel fumes, compared to the control group.
They suggest this effect might be due to either:
- nanoparticles that slowly penetrate the brain itself, or
- nanoparticles that affect neurophysiologic signaling through some other pathway
Either way, air pollution is a serious concern that spells trouble for both your body and your brain, regardless of how it works.
How Toxic is Your City?
The latest State of the Air report for 2007 also lists the Best and Worst cities for air pollution in the United States. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, CA takes the prize for Most Polluted Year-Round, and, I’m sad to say, my hometown of Chicago, IL ranks number 11 out of the top 25.
The only silver lining, for me personally, is that Honolulu, HI came in as the third cleanest-air city in the U.S., which is where I spend part of each year.
As you become more and more informed about the toxic dangers that surround you and the natural, non-toxic alternatives that do exist, you will find that it’s not enough to pay attention to one thing only, because it’s all interconnected and changes need to be made in many areas to optimize health (both on a personal and world-wide level).
If you aim for Total Health, reviewing your diet; water supply; your healthcare; personal care products; cleaning products; the fabrics and materials used in your home and interior design; your clothing; and the quality of the air you breathe, just to rattle off a few of the concerns – ALL of it becomes important as all of it DOES impact your quality of health.
But there are safer alternatives for everything these days! And I will continue sharing them with you, so that together we can be the change we want to see.
Also remember that my site contains more than 150,000 pages of health information, so don’t forget to SEARCH for the information you need. More than likely, the answer is right at your fingertips!