Listen to this article
If you head out to any major city in the entire world and look up at the sky, you will see millions of tiny particles floating in the air, which means that the air is polluted. This air pollution not only blocks our view, but the air particles enter the lungs of the million city dwellers, affecting their overall health adversely.
Now according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the toxic particles in the polluted air we breathe can be transported from the lungs to the brain through the bloodstream. This can cause brain disorders and neurological damage.
There have been several studies in the past citing that air pollution can significantly increase the risk of neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other types of dementia. However, experts from the University of Birmingham and research institutions in China, who conducted the study have now discovered a direct pathway used by the inhaled fine particles through the bloodstream. The new findings indicate that the polluted air particles can stay longer in the brain than in other main metabolic organs.
Not just that, the scientists have also found various fine particles in human cerebrospinal fluids of patients that have experienced brain disorders, which clearly uncovers that it is a result of toxic particulate substances that ended up in the brain.
“There are gaps in our knowledge around the harmful effects of airborne fine particles on the central nervous system. This work sheds new light on the link between inhaling particles and how they subsequently move around the body,” co-author Professor Iseult Lynch, from the University of Birmingham, said in a statement.
“The data suggests that up to eight times the number of fine particles may reach the brain by travelling, via the bloodstream, from the lungs than pass directly via the nose – adding new evidence on the relationship between air pollution and detrimental effects of such particles on the brain.”
While air pollution is more or less a mixture of several toxic components, particulate matter (PM, especially ambient fine particles such as PM2.5 and PM0.1), are the ones that we should be concerned the most about in terms of causing detrimental health effects. Ultra-fine particles, in particular, are able to escape the body’s protective systems, and can pass sentinel immune cells and biological barriers.
The study concludes that inhaled particles can cross the air-blood barrier and once they reach the brain, they can cause damage to the brain-blood barrier and surrounding tissues. Once they are there, the particles can be hard to clear and are retained for longer than in other organs.