Pollution: You’re Only as Smart as the Air You Breathe

We know air quality is bad for asthma; but what about bad air quality and your ability to think? A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that the longer you breathe polluted air, the worse your cognitive ability gets.

Specifically, the study looked at the long-term exposure of 19,409 U.S. women aged 70-81 to air pollution particles of different sizes: coarse particulate matter 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter and fine particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Exposure to these particles was correlated with any decline in cognition.

The women were tested with validated phone assessments at 1 month and then three more times at 2-year intervals. The women were also asked how long they lived in the areas tested and that time frame was a few years up to 14 years.

The investigators tested the women’s general cognition, verbal memory, category fluency, working memory and attention. Here is what they found.

Both coarse and fine particulates worsened cognition in the women studied. The coarse particulates were slightly worse for cognition than the fine particulate matter.

Bottom line: long-term particulate matter exposure in air pollution is about the same as your brain aging 2 years – i.e., dumber by the breath.

This study is very eye opening and a real incentive to do at least one of two things; live where there is less pollution and/or put more pressure on government to reign in pollution. We should do it soon before we forget why.

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