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Even safe air pollution levels can harm developing brain: Study

However, recent research reveals that even levels of pollution considered safe in the long term can negatively affect brain development.

By groundreportdesk
New Update
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Air pollution is a major threat to human health, and there is increasing evidence linking it to various diseases. Recognizing this, organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and countries around the world have set strict standards to address air pollution. The United States, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has also set its own standards.

However, recent research conducted by the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine reveals that even levels of pollution considered safe in the long term can negatively affect brain development. Published in the journal Environment International, this study sheds light on the potential long-term impact of air pollution on the brain.

To explore the relationship between air pollution and brain development, the researchers analyzed data from 9,497 American children, all aged between nine and 10 years. These children participated in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which involved a comprehensive examination of tests and brain scans.

Amazingly, this study represents the largest investigation of children's brain health in the United States. The researchers specifically focused on the effects of exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone (O3), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on the functional connectivity (FC) of children's brains.

Changes in brain connectivity

The study found significant changes in brain connectivity among children exposed to air pollutants. The researchers observed both an increase and a decrease in connectivity between different regions of the brain. Such alterations can deviate from the normal trajectory of brain development and have long-term consequences. These disruptions in connectivity can affect various aspects of cognitive and emotional development, which can lead to abnormal results.

Communication between the different areas of the brain is crucial for our daily functioning, since it influences our awareness of the environment and our thoughts and emotions. The key relationships for these roles typically develop between the ages of nine and 12. Any deviation from expected patterns of brain connectivity can have adverse effects on cognitive and emotional development.

Tightening air quality rules

The USC study monitored the children's brain development over a two-year period and also collected data on PM2.5, ozone and nitrogen dioxide levels in their residential areas. Statistical analyzes were used to examine the relationship between air pollution levels and changes in brain connectivity over time.

The findings revealed that higher PM2.5 levels were associated with increased functional connectivity between brain regions. Conversely, higher exposure to nitrogen dioxide was linked to lower connectivity between brain regions. Ozone exposure was found to increase connectivity within the cortex but decrease connections between the cortex and other regions such as the amygdala and hippocampus.

Significance to India

Although this study focused on American children, it raises concerns about the impact of air pollution on brain development globally. India, in particular, faces serious air quality problems in many regions. Given worsening pollution levels, it is crucial to consider the potential effects on the brain development of Indian children.

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