Pollution affecting the brain?

As if parents didn’t have enough to think about, scientists have reported that to their surprise and dismay, certain substances are being found in brain tissue that shouldn’t be there. They are iron oxides akin to rust, and they can have a similar effect to rust on important brain tissue. Especially for children whose brains are in fast development, keeping them as free from toxins as we can is imperative.

Until now many have assumed that the blood-brain barrier would protect the brain’s crucial tissues from pollution. But according to research at Lancaster University in the UK, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and reported by the BBC, their study shows that tiny particles of magnetite, which most likely come from car exhaust, are making their way into the brain.

According to the report, magnetite, can be found in the brain, but this is in a different structure which could only come from outside, and it is much more prevalent than the traces normally found, up to 100 times more prevalent.

The people whose brains were studied after their deaths were of diverse ages and came from Mexico City and from Manchester, UK, both recognized as highly polluted cities.

The particles were found with other kinds of materials which led the researchers to conclude that these were pollutants from catalytic converters in cars.

These tiny particles are actually so small they are not filtered by the nose but are believed to go right into the nerve passages to the brain.

Lead author of the published study, Professor Barbara Maher, told the BBC, “It’s a discovery finding. It’s a whole new area to investigate to understand if these magnetite particles are causing or accelerating neurodegenerative disease,” which includes Altzheimer’s.

As the BBC article points out, previously pollution was looked for mostly in the lungs and heart. It was assumed the brain was relatively impervious. But air pollution around the world has been increasing and the World Health Organization now attributes three million premature deaths a year around the world to air pollution. In the UK it is suspected that up to 50,000 people die each year because of air pollution related issues.

Our cars are causing other health problems. Recent studies have also shown that plastics and other materials in cars leach into car air, especially because cars easily overheat, as we all know, when left in the sun. The temperatures get much higher than you would ever find in a home. The chemicals can interact and become even more toxic.

Even the “new car smell” that buyers like to notice has been linked to neurological defects in newborns.

It is imperative that families take control of the quality of the air in their cars and homes, and keep an air-tight barrier between their homes and their garages. Before you purchase a car, check the comparisons among brands for the least likely to poison your air. Here is a link where you can do that. http://www.ecocenter.org/sites/default/files/2012_Cars.pdf.

And if you jog or run, try to find a place where you are not going right along a well-traveled road. The benefits of the exercise might be outweighed by the pollutants you are breathing. And maybe kids shouldn’t walk to school or wait for the school bus at a busy intersection.

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