A new study unveiled a dramatic connection between air pollution and cognitive decline that may help explain why cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s are on the rise. Researchers in China were concerned about high levels of pollution including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter <10µm, especially in the years 2010 and 2014. This prompted them to assess air pollution’s impact on cognition, especially in older adults.
Over four years, they studied more than 25 thousand people, assessing verbal and math skills. Afterward, they stated conclusively, that air pollution and longer exposure time were strongly correlated with cognitive decline, more so for verbal skills than math skills. In fact, they went on to say that they suspect that pollutants collect in and damage the brain’s white matter, which is directly tied to verbal abilities. Men have less white matter than women so it was not surprising that loss of function was more severe in men than women and became more pronounced with age.
“Investing in cleaner air not only improves human health but also cognitive capital, so when evaluating the impact of air pollution, the hidden cost on intellect should not be ignored.”
– Dr. Zhang
Older adults aren’t the only ones at risk. Previous research has called attention to how air pollution exacerbates negative neurological effects. Blood tests of college students compared stress hormone levels, glucose, and insulin, as well as fatty acid levels between individuals given air purifiers and those who weren’t. Findings revealed that those without air purifiers had significantly higher levels of the previously mentioned metabolic and stress markers, leading scientists to conclude that air pollution has a wide array of negative health effects on metabolism and stress response.
This is because floor coverings, computers, mattresses, clothing, and furniture exude dangerous chemicals into your air on top of the pollution that enters your home from outdoor sources. The good news is that you can take steps today to begin reducing your risk of cognitive decline and pollution-related health risks.
The EPA ranks air pollution as a top health concern, noting that indoor air is typically more dangerous than outdoor air.
1. Get rid of toxic cleaning products
Your grandma’s old water and vinegar solution is a much better option than today’s cleaning products, which are littered with toxins. Chemicals that you spray onto surfaces or use on clothing evaporate into your air supply and leave chemical residue on your surfaces. The Environmental Working Group keeps an updated list of the healthiest home cleaners.
Buy home goods that do not contain dangerous chemicals or flame retardants.
Mattresses, pillows, carpeting, furniture, and many other home goods contain chemical treatments that are toxic to your health. Over a period of about 10 years, these chemicals continue to off-gas into your home offering a constant source of pollution. Look for goods and flame retardants that are certified toxin-free, and replace carpet with hardwood or other natural products if possible.
2. Clean your ducts and furnace and replace your filters regularly
Your furnace is responsible for heating your home, but it also circulates your air. Over time, toxic dust collects in vents and in the furnace. You can improve the air circulation in your home by replacing the furnace filter, adding a HEPA filter to your air return, and having your furnace and ducts cleaned regularly.
3. Invest in a HEPA air cleaner for your home
Stand-alone or whole-home units are available. These systems draw indoor air into the unit, filter it, and recirculate clean air. Look for filters that capture particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and smaller. My absolute favorite is IQAir, but less expensive models that include HEPA filters can make a big difference.
Eating quality foods—organic produce and pasture-raised or wild meat—ensures that you’re providing your body with the fuel it needs to protect itself from harmful toxins.
The big picture
The air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat all make an impact on your health over time. If you’re concerned about preventing cognitive decline, or if you’re noticing early signs that your mind is not as sharp as it once was, our clinic offers comprehensive and cutting-edge lab testing that provides critical information about your health risks. It’s imperative to combine our expert knowledge of genetics and environmental factors to create an individualized therapeutic approach that can turn disease around and help you achieve optimal health.