Scientists Find Possible Link Between Air Pollution and Psychiatric Disorders

(CN) – The polluted air we breathe may significantly harm our mental and neurological health, scientists said in a study published Tuesday.

A passenger airliner flies past steam and white smoke emitted from a coal-fired plant. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

Researchers examined data collected from the U.S. and Denmark over the past few years to better understand how air quality and other environmental factors contribute to psychiatric and mental health issues.

In the study published in the scientific journal PLOS One, the researchers said that what they found was troubling.

University of Chicago computational scientist Atif Khan and his team found that as we breathe polluted air, chemical pollutants target certain sections of our brains, such as neuroinflammatory pathways.

Once the pollutants have entered these parts of the brain, it becomes more susceptible to experiencing serious psychiatric issues, according to the study. The trend appeared even stronger among the Danes, where exposure to air pollution during the first 10 years of a person’s life predicted a more than twofold increase in schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Previous studies have explored the link between the environment and mental well-being, but the study’s authors believe their research is more specific.

“In our exploratory analysis, we found that poor air quality is associated with apparently higher rates of bipolar disorder and major depression in both U.S. and Danish populations,” the study states.

With record-breaking air pollution afflicting several places around the globe – such as the drastic rise in smog that gripped New Delhi in 2017 – understanding the dangers that air pollution poses to our psychiatric health is more important than ever, according to the study’s authors.

The findings of the study are far from conclusive, however, as there is a great divide in the scientific community regarding the extent of the connections between our brains and environmental factors. Researchers suggest that future research will help to settle the debate.

“Our results indicate that the physical environment, in particular air quality, warrants further attention in research seeking to elucidate environmental contributors to neurological and psychiatric disease risk,” the study states.

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