Traffic Pollution Affects Cognitive Ability

A groundbreaking study has discovered a worrying new link between air pollution and human brain function. Utilizing Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), researchers observed that even just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust can impair the communication abilities within different areas of the brain. This may lead to decreased functional connectivity – an indicator of how well cells interact with each other in-turn affecting overall mental performance.

Although scientists believed for years that the brain was impervious to air pollution, this new research has uncovered powerful proof of its hazardous effects on cognition.

To investigate the effects of diesel exhaust, researchers recruited 25 healthy adults in which their brain activity was measured through functional magnetic resonance imaging. The measurements were made both before and after exposure to either filtered air or exposure to fumes. Results revealed that exposures had an influence on participants’ brains in that widespread regions of the default mode network. It showed decreased connectivity following contact with diesel exhaust compared to clean air. This hints at the potential impact long-term inhalation may have on our thoughts and memories.

Altered functional connectivity in the default mode network appears to have a direct influence on cognitive performance and symptoms of depression, making it worrying that traffic pollution may be interrupting these same networks. If true, this could mean significantly impaired thinking or an inability to work for many individuals.

While the brain changes experienced in this study were only temporary, it is believed that continually breathing in polluted air could have long-lasting effects on our health and well being. To minimize exposure to hazardous pollutants such as car exhaust fumes it is important to be mindful of your breathing and taking preventive steps to limit exposure. This could be by making sure car filters work properly or avoiding heavily trafficked streets if you’re biking or walking.

Air pollution is quickly becoming recognized as the number one threat to human health, with a range of wide-reaching implications for major organ systems. From research it has now been shown that certain pollutants commonly found in traffic fumes can also cause cognitive decline. Similar findings may be expected from smoke and other air toxins released by burning forests or other combustibles. This suggests yet another environmental factor playing into rising rates of neurocognitive conditions around the world. It’s vitally important for public officials and policymakers alike to take this into account when making decisions about individuals’ well being in today’s environment.

To view the original scientific study click below:
Brief diesel exhaust exposure acutely impairs functional brain connectivity in humans: a randomized controlled crossover study