Air pollution increases risk of Alzheimer's and suicide by five

Exposure to air pollution increases people’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease and suicide, new research suggests.

Lifelong exposure to fine-air particles raises people’s levels of the ‘Alzheimer’s protein’ APOE4, which is associated with rapid-onset dementia, as well as making people up to 4.92 times more likely to take their own lives, a study found.

The researchers believe fine-air particles enter people’s brains when they breathe before travelling elsewhere in their bodies via their bloodstreams. 

Past research suggests such particles, which weigh less than 0.0025mg and are given out in vehicle-exhaust fumes, cause inflammation. 

Inflammation has previously been linked to both Alzheimer’s and mental-health problems.

The study was carried out in Mexico City, which is home to 24 million people who are exposed to fine-air particle concentrations above US Environmental Protection Agency standards every day.

Alzheimer’s disease affects around 5.5 million people in the US and 850,000 in the UK. 

Exposure to air pollution increases people's risk of Alzheimer's disease and suicide (stock)

Exposure to air pollution increases people’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease and suicide (stock)


Young children who grow up exposed to air pollution are more likely to develop asthma, research suggested in December 2017.

A mix of dust, sand and non-exhaust tailpipe emissions, known as coarse particulate matter, increases youngsters under 11’s risk of the lung condition by 1.3 per cent, a study by The Johns Hopkins University found.

Air pollution also raises their risk of visiting the emergency room due to their asthma by 3.3 per cent and being hospitalised with the condition by 4.5 per cent, the research adds.

Young children are thought to be more at risk due to them typically spending a lot of time outdoors and being vulnerable to air pollution due to their immature lungs, according to the researchers.

Around 7.1 million children in the US have asthma, making it the most common chronic childhood illness. 

Approximately 1.1 million youngsters are affected in the UK. 

The researchers analysed the asthma diagnoses and treatment data of 7,810,025 children aged between five and 20 years old living in 34 states between 2009 and 2010.

They estimated levels of coarse particulate matter in each zip code using information from the EPA’s Air Quality System database from 2009 to 2010. 

‘It is useless to take action decades later’

Lead author Dr Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, from the University of Montana, said: ‘Alzheimer’s disease hallmarks start in childhood in polluted environments and we must implement effective preventative measures early, including the prenatal period and childhood. 

‘It is useless to take reactive actions decades later. 

‘Defining pediatric environmental, nutritional, metabolic and genetic risk-factor interactions are key to preventing Alzheimer’s disease.’ 

Results further suggest air pollution also increases levels of the abnormal proteins hyperphosphorylated tau and beta amyloid, which have both previously been associated with Alzheimer’s.  

How the research was carried out 

The researchers analysed 203 autopsies of people who died at between 11 months and 40 years old.

It is unclear what caused their deaths. 

The researchers assessed the autopsies’ levels of proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s.

The findings were published in the journal of Environmental Research. 

Beetroots may help in the fight against Alzheimer’s  

This comes after research released last month suggested beetroots could help in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Betanin, which is a compound that gives the vegetable its distinctive red colour, may slow the accumulation of protein plaque tangles, which are associated with the condition, in the brain.

Study author Dr Li-June Ming, from the University of South Florida, said: ‘Our data suggest that betanin, a compound in beet extract, shows some promise as an inhibitor of certain chemical reactions in the brain that are involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

‘This is just a first step, but we hope that our findings will encourage other scientists to look for structures similar to betanin that could be used to synthesise drugs that could make life a bit easier for those who suffer from this disease.’ 

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Samaritans here.  

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