Are air pollution particles capable of damaging the brain?

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While air pollution has often been shown to be harmful to the lungs and heart, new research suggests that airborne particulates may also be associated with brain disorders.A new study has found fine particles of pollution in the cerebrospinal fluid of people diagnosed with brain disorders.

The authors of the study also tracked particles through the bodies of mice and assert that such particles in humans travel from lungs to blood, and through the brain-blood barrier.

Particulate matter in air pollution is known to cause problems for our lungs and hearts. However, the damage doesn’t stop there. A new study from researchers at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. and Chinese research institutions found that such pollution-borne toxic particles can also reach the brain.

The researchers examined the cerebrospinal fluidTrusted Source and blood of 25 patients with various mental disorders at a Chinese hospital and found a variety of toxic fine particulates in the cerebrospinal fluid of 32% of the patients as well, as in the blood.Samples were also taken from 26 healthy people, and the researchers found particulate matter in only one individual.

Study co-author Professor Iseult Lynch tells University of Birmingham News that our knowledge of the harmful effects of airborne fine particles on the central nervous system has been lacking. She says the study shines light on “the link between inhaling particles and how they subsequently move around the body.”

Particulate matter and air pollution Particle pollution, also called particulate matter (PM)Trusted Source, is ranked by size:

PM 10 — Particles up to 10 μm (microns). These include airborne viruses, bacteria, smoke, dust, and mold spores.

PM 2.5 — Particles up to 2.5 μm. These are likely to be particles from power plants, vehicle exhausts, wildfires, and other types of combustion.

PM 0.1 — Particles up to 0.1 μm. This is ultra-fine dust, largely from the same sources as PM 2.5 particles, but much finer. They are the most common indoor particles.

PM 0.1 particles are believed to be the most hazardous to human healthTrusted Source since they are so infinitesimal they can evade the body’s defenses, internal barriers against intrusive foreign matter, and even the immune system’s sentinel cells.

Recent research suggests PM 0.1 particles are sources of oxidative stressTrusted Source and cardiovascular toxicity.

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