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What Is Air Pollution Doing to Our Brains?

Air pollution is harming your brain and causing mental health disorders. But how? And what’s the solution?

Published
Mind It
2 min read

Camera: Mukul Bhandari

Editing and Animation: Rahul Sanpui, Prashant Chauhan

Illustrations: Kamran Akhter, Shruti Mathur

The need for clean and safe air cannot be overstated. While we know how air pollution is affecting certain parts of the body (especially lungs and heart), recent research is adding to the list a number of mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mood swings and cognitive decline.

It shouldn’t be surprising, though.

The brain is a part of the body — the part that controls all important bodily functions. Any harm done to it translates into a serious health issue. 

Air pollution is affecting the brain in more ways than one. Dr Manjari Tripathi, Neurologist, AIIMS Delhi, explains:

  • In the newborn, it can delay and completely change the trajectory of growth. It could lead to stunting strokes, cognitive decline and autism spectrum disorder.
  • In teens and young adults, air pollution can lead to stroke, young dementia, decreased memory attention and compromised planning and judgement abilities.
  • In the elderly, it can fast track dementia, Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
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What’s Happening Inside the Brain?

The body needs oxygen for its functioning. When this air gets polluted what you end up inhaling is less oxygen and more of other substances like fine particulate matter released by power plants factories, cars and trucks. When this enters the body, the body is denied what it needs for its functioning.

And this causes all the problems.

“Scientifically, it has been shown that pollution will reduce the thickness of the grey matter which is on the outer side, which is responsible for all our cognitive capacities. It makes the white matter, which is on the inside, fragile and moth-eaten. It reduces the size of vital memory areas of the brain and causes an overall shrinkage of the brain.”
Dr Manjari Tripathi

So What’s the Solution?

No, no number of air purifiers and pollution masks can save you. The link between environment and health needs to be given its due. It’s important to understand that one cannot improve if the other is degrading.

So instead of just finding ways to save yourself from the effects of air pollution, hit the nail at the right spot and control air pollution itself.

And your brain will thank you!

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