Traffic air pollution linked to stronger signs of Alzheimer’s disease

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A recent study highlighted in Neurology on February 21, 2024, sheds light on the potential link between traffic-related air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease.

Specifically, the research focused on fine particulate matter (PM2.5), tiny pollutant particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which are commonly found in urban air pollution.

The study observed that individuals with higher exposure to this type of pollution were more likely to have increased levels of amyloid plaques in their brains, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, after their death.

It’s important to note that the study does not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between air pollution and the presence of amyloid plaques.

Instead, it reveals an association, prompting further investigation into how traffic-related air pollution might influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Anke Huels from Emory University, who led the study, emphasized the need for more research to understand the mechanisms underlying this association.

The study examined the brain tissues of 224 individuals, who had donated their brains for dementia research, upon their death at an average age of 76.

The research team assessed the subjects’ exposure to air pollution based on their residential addresses in the Atlanta area, a region known for significant ambient pollution, particularly from traffic.

The findings indicated a clear correlation: individuals with higher exposure to PM2.5 in the year and three years preceding their death showed a greater likelihood of having elevated amyloid plaque levels in their brains.

Specifically, a 1 microgram per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 exposure was linked to nearly twice the likelihood of having higher plaque levels for exposures in the year before death, and an 87% increased likelihood for exposures in the three years before death.

Additionally, the study explored the impact of genetics on these findings, particularly the presence of the APOE e4 gene variant, which is commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Interestingly, the strongest link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s markers was observed in individuals without this gene variant.

This suggests that environmental factors like air pollution could play a significant role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease in cases where genetics do not explain the disease’s presence.

However, the study has its limitations, including the reliance on participants’ last known addresses to estimate pollution exposure and the fact that the cohort consisted mainly of white, highly educated individuals, which might limit the generalizability of the findings to broader populations.

Despite these limitations, the study contributes to the growing body of evidence suggesting that environmental factors such as air pollution may influence the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

This research underscores the importance of further studies to fully understand the relationship between air pollution and neurodegenerative diseases and to explore potential preventive measures.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Omega-3 fats and carotenoid supplements could improve memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and higher magnesium intake could help benefit brain health.

The research findings can be found in Neurology.

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