5 Ways Air Pollution Damages Your Brain

published Sep 08, 2016
1 min read

Air pollution


In the last five years, air pollution has risen by 8% around the world (WHO, 2016). This implies that an increasing number of people are being exposed to the risks of unhealthy air.

The WHO reports that the most polluted city in the world is Onitsha in Southeast Nigeria with nearly 600 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate matter (PM) 10s. This is about 30 times higher than the WHO recommended safe levels of 20 micrograms per cubic meter.

The top 10 cities with the highest pollution levels include Zabol in Iran, Gwalior and Allahabad in India, Riyadh and Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia and Baoding and Xingtai in China.

There are different types of air pollution, but the most harmful are outdoor air pollution that contains dangerous pollutants. These criteria pollutants include ozone, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead.

Living in cities with high levels of air pollution do not only increase your chances of developing chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, but it can simultaneously damage your brain.

5 Ways Air Pollution Can Damage Your Brain Function

    1. Brain volume loss and ageing:

      It appears that exposure to large amounts of fine-particulate matter in a large city contributes to substantial losses in white matter which is responsible for transmitting signals between various parts of the brain. Individuals exposed to 4 mcg per cubic meter of fine-particulate matter can experience 2 years of accelerated brain ageing.

    2. Behavioural changes and mood swings:

      Individuals exposed to air pollution tend to act more impulsive, and can experience many mood disorders. Moreover, individuals who are exposed to air pollution can have a hard time correcting detrimental behaviours.

    3. Cognitive impairment:

      The brains of children are highly sensitive to environmental inputs during their development. Cognitive impairment and memory deficit are likely most notable among children without fully developed brains. Individuals living in areas with pollution are likely to have lower IQ performance which is due to decreased brain volume and executive task performance.

    4. Neurodegeneration:

      Research has proven that exposure to high levels of air pollution increases the chances of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This is due to the high association of air pollution with brain neuroinflammation.

    5. Stroke risk:

      Assessments suggest that 2 micrograms (mcg) of fine-particulate matter pollution is associated with nearly a 50% increase in the likelihood of a silent-stroke among the elderly.