Particle pollution can get trapped in the blood-brain barrier – a link between anxiety, depression, and other health problems based on human’s anatomy
Studies show that air pollution may cause the body to release harmful substances that hurt the blood-brain barrier, a system of blood vessels and tissues that protect the brain, leading to anxiety and depression. But more research will be needed to fully understand this connection, because the neural basis for both anxiety and depression is not completely understood.
The study found that particle pollution is so small, that it can travel past the body’s normally-guarded defenses. It can get stuck in the lungs or bloodstream if it isn’t carried out when a person exhales. The particles cause irritation and inflammation and may lead to a whole host of health problems.
Nitrogen dioxide pollution is most commonly associated with traffic-related combustion byproducts. Traffic and oil, coal and natural gas burning are the main sources of nitrogen oxides.
The smallest particulate matter included in the new study, PM2.5, is so tiny – 1/20th of a width of a human hair – that it can travel past your body’s usual defenses.
It can go into your bloodstream if it gets stuck in your lungs. The particles cause inflammation and can cause respiratory problems. Exposure can cause cancer, a stroke or heart attack and has been linked to a higher risk of depression and anxiety.
The connection between air pollution changes and children’s symptoms of depression and anxiety in the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database
For the new study, researchers looked at the records of 389,185 people from the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database of half a million diverse volunteers. 13,131 were diagnosed with depression during the study period, while 15,955 were diagnosed with anxiety.
“A lot of these air pollutions tend to cluster in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, so it’s one of the big reasons we want to always keep a close eye on this, as it disproportionately impacts certain populations more than others,” he said.
Other studies have found a connection between blood pressure changes and pollution, but much of that work focuses on adults. Some research has also found negative associations with pollution exposure and younger children, but little has focused on teens.
Generally, low blood pressure can cause immediate problems like confusion, tiredness, blurred vision and dizziness. A lifetime of health problems, including a higher risk of stroke or heart attack, can be caused by high blood pressure in adolescence. It is a leading risk factor for premature death.
However, it looks only at teens in London, and only 8% of them were people of color. The study found that those children were exposed to pollution at higher levels than the White children.
Levels of pollution in London are also well above what World Health Organization guidelines suggest is safe for humans. However, the same could be said for most any area in the world. In 2019, 99% of the world’s population lived in places that did not meet WHO’s recommended air quality levels.
One way to reduce a teen’s risk of getting sick from pollution is to invest in portable air cleaners with high-efficiency particulates, or HEPA, filters, that are highly effective in reducing indoor air pollution. However, the filters can’t remove all of the problem, and experts say communitywide solutions through public policy are what’s needed.
Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said research like this is important to generate a hypothesis about what these pollutants are doing to people. Galiatsatos, a volunteer medical spokesperson with the American Lung Association, was not involved with the new study.
Blood Pressure and Toxic Substances in the Human Circumstellar System: A Discussion with Dr. Seeromanie Harding
Blood pressure is an important marker to track for health because it is a surrogate to understand the more complex processes that might be happening in the body.
The toxins seem to have an impact on the cardiovascular system, and any manipulation should be taken into account.
Dr. Seeromanie Harding, a professor of social epidemiology at King’s College London said she hopes the study leads to more research on the topic.