Take a deep breath for this one.
New scientific evidence shows that even levels of air pollution thought to be safe can be detrimental to brain function, according to research from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
“On average, air pollution levels are fairly low in the U.S., but we’re still seeing significant effects on the brain,” study author Devyn L. Cotter said.
Specifically, there are pollutants in the air that have been considered harmless by the Environmental Protection Agency which are now tied to long-term changes in the brain over time.
Children exposed to more pollutants had shown “changes in connectivity between various brain regions.”
The substances of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3) were all seen to impact brain function and connections between the regions.
Fine particulate matter had caused increases in functional connectivity whereas nitrogen dioxide was connected to decreased.
Ground-level ozone was tied to “greater connections within the brain’s cortex, but fewer connections between the cortex and other regions.”
Both the hippocampus, a key to memory and cognisance, along with the amygdala — the brain’s emotional processor — were specifically mentioned.
“A deviation in any direction from a normal trajectory of brain development — whether brain networks are too connected or not connected enough — could be harmful down the line,” Cotter added.
In the case of children, these sorts of neurological connections are especially critical between the ages of 9 and 12.
“[They] can influence whether children experience normal or atypical cognitive and emotional development,” the researchers noted.
Senior author Megan M. Herting also warned that air quality impact on brain networking “may reflect an early biomarker for increased risk for cognitive and emotional problems later in life.”
“Long term, does this lead to risk for psychopathology that continues to ramp up during mid- to late- adolescence? How does this affect people’s trajectory of mental health?” she added.