Northern and Central Europe's leading career network for universities, colleges and research institutes

Air pollution can mess up your brain

Air pollution is a known culprit in lung and heart disease. Fine particulate matter, tiny particles, 1/30th the width of a human hair, are released into the air by power plants, factories, cars and trucks. These fine particles somehow invade the body’s defenses and do the most damage. Air quality is worst in urban areas with increased traffic. New research points out that air pollution negatively affects brain and cognitive development in young children and teenagers.

Moreover, Jennifer Weuve, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Rush Medical College, found that older women who had been exposed to high levels of the pollution experienced greater cognitive decline compared with other women their age (Archives of Internal Medicine, 2012). Other studies cite black carbon in the form of soot as a cause of cognitive decline in an aging population for both men and women. Simply put: Dirty air messes up the brain.

In a new study conducted by a research team at Umeå University in Sweden, the correlation between exposure to air pollution in residential areas and children’ and adolescents’ psychiatric health was studied. The results show that air pollution increased the need for prescribed psychiatric medication for a mental illness. “The results can mean that a decreased concentration of air pollution, first and foremost traffic-related air pollution, may reduce psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents,” says lead researcher Anna Oudin, the Unit for Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine.

When trying to make sense out of this study and past ones since the 1970s, we can understand that humans are affected by the weather. The Romantic poets knew about the link between our feelings and nature. Sunny days make us more cheery while cold, dreary rainy days are depressing. Pollen can make our thoughts cloudy. A change in barometric pressure can induce a bad headache, and cool damp days can worsen arthritis. Snow and ice bring anxiety to those traveling to and from work. Shorter days of sunlight after a glorious summer lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder for a significant number of the Northern population.

You can reason the physical/mental link in this way: Fine particulate matter is a stressor. Stress induces inflammation and inflammation negatively affects brain function. This means clear thinking, mood and resiliency spiral down. On the other hand, nature has the potential to reduce stress and heal the mind like spending a day at the sea shore, walking in a park, or sitting in a garden.

What you can do:

  • Before you choose a place to live evaluate environmental pollutants.
  • Wear a special mask if you have asthma or other health problems related to poor air quality.
  • If you live in a polluted neighborhood, become a community activist for change regarding air and noise pollution. Cognitive decline and mental illness, as triggered by pollution, are currently receiving a good amount of attention. Tap into the energy.
  • If there is a Smog alert in your area, take precautions and stay indoors. Turn on your air conditioner or air purifier. For free and natural air purification grow common air cleaning plants like the spider plant, Chinese evergreen or peace lily. They do a great job of drawing out toxins from the air.

For more info on healthy living visit:


Read about the latest news from the academic world, you also have the opportunity to publish your own articles about your research via Academic world news & University Positions. You can connect your articles to your employer profile and boost specific adverts that you also wish to publish via University Positions. For publishing of articles please send us an e-mail with further information to: