Blog SP Staff

Shocking Link Found Between Air Pollution and Alzheimer’s

A new study based on nanoparticles found in the brainstems of young people could have wide-reaching consequences for global environmental policy.
Mexico city has grappled with dangerous levels of air pollution for decades. [sanpani / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Environmental Research has published a new study carried out Lilian Calderón-Garcidueña at the University of Montana and a team of international researchers that sheds light on the possible damage dirty air can have on our brains. The researchers found copious amounts of nanoparticles linked to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, in the brain stems of nearly 200 young Mexico City residents under the age of 27 who had died suddenly. While the Mexican capital has long struggled with toxic air quality, the new study has global relevance as a whopping 90% of the world is exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.

According to the The Guardian,

There is already good statistical evidence that higher exposure to air pollution increases rates of neurodegenerative diseases, but the significance of the new study is that it shows a possible physical mechanism by which the damage is done. […]

“It is terrifying because, even in the infants, there is neuropathology in the brain stem,” said Prof Barbara Maher, at Lancaster University, UK, and part of the research team. “We can’t prove causality so far, but how could you expect these nanoparticles containing those metal species to sit inert and harmless inside critical cells of the brain? That’s the smoking gun – it seriously looks as if those nanoparticles are firing the bullets that are causing the observed neurodegenerative damage.”

The causes of neurodegenerative disease are complex and not fully understood. “There’s definitely going to be genetic factors and there’s highly likely to be other neurotoxicants,” said Maher. “But the thing that’s special about air pollution is how pervasively people are exposed to it. I don’t think that human systems have developed any defence mechanisms to protect themselves from nanoparticles.”

She said it was important to study children as they have not experienced other factors associated with dementia such as alcohol consumption: “So they become the canaries in the coalmine.”

Read more.

The findings have yet to be confirmed by other members of the scientific community, but other experts have already carried out research that points towards a similar direction. When studies such as these are considered in tandem with what we already know about the dangers of unsafe air as well as the devastating impacts of climate change, the question that remains is this: What exactly are global leaders waiting for to meaningfully address air pollution?


  1. Adding to the frustration is the reluctance of clinical medicine to generally embrace the pathological implications of enviro-toxicity. In my experience (as a biologist and patient), clinical practitioners will look everywhere else for causality rather than address a topic that their education hardly prepares them for. It’s a telling irony that we live embedded within a toxic soup, but conveniently deny that fact in diagnosing patients.

    For example: Your blood tests tell your physician that an important protein (in my case, ferritin, the most important iron-storage protein inside cells) is present at lower-than-normal levels. But, this has never been the case in your past medical history. To me, its no stretch to consider the possibility that one or more environmental mutagens (or other types of metabolic poisons) have interfered with the proper regulation of the gene for said protein. For all our knowledge of gene regulation, such considerations rarely take center stage in diagnostic medicine.

    It seems clear that although we pay attention to some aspects (excess CO2) of our economic system’s toxification of our health, we’re mostly happy to live in denial about others.

  2. interesting
    we know that some diseases are caused or accelerated by environmental factors. this is only one of many variables

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