APR 27, 2015 09:08 PM PDT

Pollution Shrinks Brains, Causes Silent Strokes

Air pollution can shrink brains, lead to cognitive problems and even cause silent stokes, according to new research published by Stroke a journal of the American Heart Association.
Pollution can cause brain damage.
Fine-particle air pollution can cause the damage to brain structures over long-term exposure, according to the researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Boston University School of Medicine.

The study analyzed 900 participants of the Framingham Heart Study in the greater Boston area, and used satellite imagery to assess prolonged exposure to ambient fine particulate matter, equivalent to a 2.5 millionth of a meter.

Such particles come from power plants, factories, truck, cars and burning wood, the researchers said.

During the years 1995 through 2005, the scientists used MRIs to determine how the pollution had affected the patients. They found the group had a 0.32 percent smaller total cerebral brain volume and a 46 percent higher risk of covert brain infarcts, a kind of undetected stroke, they found.

"Long-term exposure to air pollution showed harmful effects on the brain in this study, even at low levels, particularly with older people and even those who are relatively healthy," said Elissa Wilker, the lead author of the study, and a researcher at Beth Israel and at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"We found that people who live in areas where there are higher levels of air pollution had smaller total cerebral brain volume and were more likely to have evidence of covert brain infarcts," she added.

Other studies have shown a connection between air pollution and strokes, as well. A team from the University of Edinburgh found that particulate and gaseous air pollution led to worse outcomes for stroke, in a study they published last month in the British Medical Journal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently provides an air-quality measure updated regularly showing particulate measures across the nation.

About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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