All around the world, cases of cognitive diseases are on the rise. It’s an epidemic that scientists are feverishly researching in an attempt to find causes and solutions. This is especially true since most cognitive diseases are irreversible.

A recent breakthrough in research suggests that markers of certain cognitive diseases were present in young people’s brains who were constantly exposed to polluted air. This suggestion combines three of the most researched topics of today – cognitive diseases, pollution, and climate change. Keep reading to find out more.

Details of the Study

The study was done by researchers from several different universities and scientific research centers around the world. The lead researcher was Lilian Calderón-Garcidueña, affiliated with The University of Montana and the Universidad del Valle de México. Other researchers included:

  • Barbara Maher, professor and Director of the Centre for Environmental Magnetism & Paleomagnetism in the UK
  • Angélica González-Maciel of the Instituto Nacional de Pediatría in Mexico
  • Rafael Reynoso-Robles of the Instituto Nacional de Pediatría
  • Jessica Hammond of the Centre for Environmental Magnetism & Paleomagnetism
  • Randy Kulesz of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, PA, USA
  • Ingolf Lachmann of AJ Roboscreen GmbH in Leipzig, Germany
  • Ricardo Torres-Jardón of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
  • Partha S.Mukherjee of the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, India

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The research occurred in Mexico City, Mexico where 186 young people participated. The ages of the participants ranged from 11 months and 27 years of age.

Researchers likely chose this city because, in 1992, the World Health Organization (WHO) named Mexico City as the city with the most polluted air in the world. The city’s government has made tremendous strides since then to clean up pollution, but the city is still very smoggy. Plus, it’s Mexico’s capital and has the highest population of all cities in Mexico making the selection pool of participants more versatile.

For the study, researchers analyzed the brain stems of the participants. They found markers of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and motor neuron disease (MND). When compared to a group of young people who lived in an area with less polluted air, researchers saw that the young people in the less polluted air didn’t have the markers. They concluded that long-term exposure to dangerous particulates and fumes in the air of the Mexico City residents are what led to the markers appearing in their brains.

The Importance of the Study

Right now, the scientific community has a limited understanding of what causes cognitive diseases. Depending on which cognitive disease a person has, there may be medication to help manage it, but these diseases have no cure and medications only delay the inevitable. Any scientific breakthroughs can possibly help shed light into dealing with this crisis.

This research points to a way to possibly prevent the diseases in the first place and, ironically, it’s not a medical solution. The solution is environmental which points scientist to the issues of climate change, pollution, recycling, and other environmental problems. It seems that these issues are harming people as much as they’re harming the earth.

Climate Change: How It’s Affecting Life as You Know It

Climate change, also called global warming, is a topic of hot debate. There are plenty of people trying to debunk the concept, but the evidence is there. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is one of the biggest research organizations collecting data on climate change. Their results are shocking.

Greenhouse Gases

Earth goes through many temperature cycles. According to NASA, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat in the last 650,000 years. The last one started with the end of the Ice Age which brought the beginning of human civilization. The difference between previous cycles and the one that is occurring now is that previous cycles were due to natural causes because people weren’t around.

Greenhouse gases are responsible for climate change because they trap the heat from the sun in the earth’s atmosphere. While these gases can occur naturally, people are responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gases that are currently plaguing the atmosphere. In fact, NASA states that carbon dioxide (one of several greenhouse gases) is 250 times higher than they have been in previous cycles due to human activity. Some ways that people are causing a rise in greenhouse gases are fumes from cars, the use of aerosol cans, rapidly depleting forests, and more.

Besides carbon dioxide, the other greenhouse gases are:

  • water vapor
  • methane
  • chlorofluorocarbons
  • ozone
  • nitrous oxide

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Linking Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change, and Cognitive Diseases

Rising temperatures aren’t the only consequence of having concentrated levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. What you need to understand about greenhouse gases is that it’s like a blanket surrounding earth. That means nothing is escaping – pollution is being trapped in the air. That’s why many cities appear so smoggy.

In fact, certain greenhouse gases turn into pollution. For example, when ozone breaks down, it turns into free radicals. Free radicals damage humans and animals on a cellular level.

Another example is the results of inhaling high levels of carbon dioxide fumes. This can cause respiratory illnesses. It also leads to people breathing in less oxygen which can damage their brains and cardiovascular systems. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide makes up over 80 percent of greenhouse gas in the polluted air.

Going back to the study, the whole point was that polluted air is leading to cognitive diseases. This means that climate change and greenhouse gases are contributing to this problem. In fact, it could even be a primary cause of the problem although more research would be needed to verify this.

The Effect of Polluted Air on Plants

According to studies, the three air pollutants that are the most harmful to plants are

nitric oxides, ozone, and sulfur dioxide. Plants can absorb these pollutants which will cause changes on a physiological level. These changes can lead to stunted or mutated growth.

The Parts of Plants That See the Impact

The leaves of plants can have a chlorophyll deficiency due to a phenomenon called chlorosis. This is caused by ozone. Plants need chlorophyll for photosynthesis, the process that allows them to make food and energy from the sun. If plants can’t perform photosynthesis, the leaves (and eventually the plant) will die.

Fumes from vehicles and other air pollutants can cause delayed flowering or a cancellation of flowering. A plant that is exposed to polluted air must use all its resources for survival, so it can’t dedicate any to flowering. This is especially true for plants in urban areas where the concentration of air pollution is much higher.

The roots of plants can also be affected. Greenhouse gases like sulfur dioxide can cause acid rain. This rain is then absorbed by the soil and the acidity level of the soil is raised. This can cause a depletion of bacteria and nutrients in the soil that helps plants thrive.

Why Polluted Plants are So Significant

The reason this problem is significant is obvious. Humans rely on plants for food and air. Without them, people will surely die. However, it’s not just crops on farms that must be considered. A decrease in the growth of wild plants and non-edible plants can disrupt the delicate balance of the natural food chain.

Disrupting this balance affects all living creatures. Even with humans being at the top of the food chain, disrupting this balance can have devastating effects on the food supply. Animals that people eat rely on the plants that are being polluted. This means that, without these plants, the animal population begins to decrease. Even insects will have less food to eat and there are plenty of animals who rely on insects for food.

An even bigger consideration is that humans and animals could be ingesting polluted plants. This means that people are getting a direct dose of pollution to their bodies. This leads back to the study – polluted plants due to the smoggy air, contribute to the markers of cognitive diseases of the participants in Mexico City. It’s a safe bet that this is happening all over the world.

polluted air
Final Thoughts on the Study, Polluted Air, and Cognitive Diseases

The study is one of many that is pointing out the inevitable outcome of long-term exposure to air pollution. It’s a global crisis that is no longer speculation – the harmful effects are happening right now. What’s worse is that scientists speculate that it could be too late to completely reverse the damage in any significant time frame.

The best thing people can do is to use studies like this one to make changes for the following generations. Air pollution is something that people can control. They just have to come together and simply do it. Many companies and groups have been leading the change. Hopefully, this revolution catches on before too much more damage is done.