Study finds air pollution association with risk of dementia – ET HealthWorld


Washington: An worldwide study commissioned by the journal Lancet three years ago revealed 12 modifiable risk factors for dementia, including three new ones: excessive alcohol consumption, brain damage, and air pollution.

The findings of the study were published in the journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, a team of researchers led by experts at the University of California San Diego expands on how exposure to the final of those new factors, ambient air pollution, such as car exhaust and power plant emissions, is connected with a significantly increased risk of acquiring dementia over time.

Senior author William S. Kremen, PhD, professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Center for Behavior Genetics of Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues examined baseline cognitive assessments of approximately 1,100 men participating in the ongoing Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging. Average baseline age was 56, with 12 years of follow up.

They additionally looked at measures of exposure to particular matter (PM2.5) in the air and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is created when fossil fuels are burned, and assessments of episodic memory, executive function, verbal fluency, brain processing speed and APOE genotype.

APOE is a gene that provides instructions for making a protein crucial to the transport of cholesterol and other fats in the bloodstream. One version or allele of APOE called APOE-4 has been identified as a strong risk factor gene for Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers found that participants with higher levels of exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 in their 40s and 50s displayed worse cognitive functioning in verbal fluency from age 56 to 68. And persons with the APOE-4 allele appeared even more sensitive, with those exposed to higher PM2.5 levels showing worse outcomes for executive function and those with higher NO2 exposure showing worse outcomes involving episodic memory.

Executive function refers to higher-level cognitive skills used to plan, control and coordinate mental behaviors and acts. Episodic memory is the ability to recall and re-experience distinct, specific past events.

“The 2020 Lancet report concluded that modifying 12 risk factors, which include others like education and depression at midlife, could reduce dementia incidence by as much as 40 per cent,” said first author Carol E. Franz, PhD, professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Center for Behavior Genetics of Aging.

“That report placed ambient air pollution as a greater risk for Alzheimer’s and related dementias than diabetes, physical activity, hypertension, alcohol consumption and obesity. Our findings underscore the importance of identifying modifiable risk factors as early in life as possible — and that the processes by which air pollution affects risk for later-life cognitive decline begins earlier than previous studies suggest.”

  • Published On May 8, 2023 at 04:42 PM IST

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