Polluted Air Increases Depression Risk and Affects Brain Function (Study)

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Exposure to high levels of air pollution increases the risk of depression and adversely affects brain functions, such as problem-solving ability, a study has found.

A research team at the River Brain Development Institute at Johns Hopkins Medical School in the US analyzed 352 healthy adults living in Beijing, China, where air pollution is severe, and found that those exposed to large amounts of fine dust showed more depression symptoms.

They also had more difficulty performing mental tasks, such as problem solving, and were found to have impaired activity in 22 brain regions related to thinking and memory.

The researchers evaluated the symptoms of depression in 352 subjects using standard diagnostic criteria. The research team used questionnaires throughout the course of the study to understand the subjects’ mental health and brain function.

Genetic testing was also performed to determine the risk of depression based on family history. The research team measured exposure to fine dust from the nearest atmospheric monitoring station to the subjects’ residences.

The study found that people living in areas with high levels of fine dust had more symptoms of depression and more evidence of decreased brain function on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

“Air pollution not only affects heart and lung health, but can also directly affect the operation of genes in the brain that control thinking and emotional functions, which can lead to brain diseases such as depression,” the research team said.

It is estimated that about 90% of the world’s population live in areas where air pollution levels exceed health standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the report, fine dust is known to be associated with up to 4 million premature deaths annually.

The results of this study (Air pollution interacts with genetic risk to influence cortical networks implicated in depression) were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By Kwon Soon-il, staff reporter [email protected]

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