We’ve always known dirty air is not ideal for human health. Air pollution is known to cause significant damage to your lungs and heart; the lungs inhale toxins and then the blood circulates them around to all your organs. But researchers are now confident that those particulates can destroy neurons in the brain, too.
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Particulates are tiny bits of matter, like dust, heavy metals, and chemical elements that are suspended in the air. They’re so little (2.5micrometers) that they can bypass the lungs and blood and go along the olfactory nerve straight to the brain. Studies now show that many of those particulates we’re taking in from the air are directly linked to brain degradation, Alzheimer’s, and autism.
Studies subjecting lab rats to fossil fuel emissions have given us insight as to how harmful these substances are. The results are bleak. The studies tried to mimic the amount of diesel exhaust a human could expect to take in while sitting in traffic or living next to a busy road. The rats showed DNA damage, brain inflammation, reduction of the blood-brain barrier, and signs of Alzheimer’s.
But that’s just rats. MRI scans and cognitive tests have identified air particulates to cause neuroinflammation, brain structure changes, cognitive deficits, and Alzheimer’s-like pathologies in otherwise healthy children living in Mexico City.
The EPA started enforcing a maximum size of 2.5micrometers for particulate emissions across the US in the mid-2000s. At the same time, researchers sought evidence of a causal relationship between air pollution and dementia in humans. The team superimposed EPA air quality data to Medicare data for nearly 7 million Americans between 2004 and 2013. After controlling for a range of health and socioeconomic factors, they found that the 2.5micrometer limit was successful. The federal regulation allowed for 182,000 fewer people with dementia in 2013 and valued the decrease at an estimated $214 billion.
Who needs O2 and a regulator for climbing above 8,000m? I’m saving mine just for sitting in traffic.