Research reveals what air pollution is doing to your brain, and it’s not good

28 Aug 2018

Image: VanderWolf Images/Shutterstock

When it comes to air pollution, our minds are just as vulnerable to damage as the rest of our body, according to a new study.

It has become common knowledge that air pollution causes great damage to our lungs, but another essential organ is being irreparably affected by it.

According to The Guardian, a new study published to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that air pollution is resulting in a huge drop in intelligence.

The study, conducted in China, showed a causality between inhaling excessive amounts of pollution and a significant drop in language and arithmetic, equivalent to a person losing a year in education.

While previous studies have looked at air pollution’s damaging effect on students, this was the first to analyse it in a general population, both men and women.

The loss of a year’s worth of education is “huge”, according to Xi Chen of the research team.

“But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men and for those with low education,” he added. “If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.”

Applicable to the world

The tests used to determine the findings were part of the China Family Panel Studies, which involved 20,000 people across the country between 2010 and 2014.

The scientists then compared the results with patient records showing nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide pollution.

They found that a person’s language was affected more than their mathematical abilities, and that more men were affected than women.

The study stressed that it had accounted for a gradual decline in cognition as people reach old age, and also ruled out the possibility that those taking the tests were more impatient or uncooperative when pollution was at high levels.

While the study was carried out in China where air pollution is found at enormous levels, the findings are likely applicable to the whole world.

Speaking of the ramifications, Chen said that this should encourage governments to take drastic measures to reduce air pollution.

“Governments really need to take concrete measures to reduce air pollution,” he said. “That may benefit human capital, which is one of the most important driving forces of economic growth.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic