Breathing in polluted air sends toxic chemicals straight from lungs to brain, study shows

Air pollution is linked to numerous health issues, and now a new study says that inhaling contaminants actually sends toxic chemicals directly to the brain. According to an international team of researchers from the University of Birmingham along with scientists in China, polluted air could contribute to brain disorders and neurological damage.

The study finds that people breathing in polluted air could cause toxic particles to be transported from lungs to the brain, via the bloodstream.

Scientists say they have discovered a possible direct pathway used by various inhaled fine particles through the bloodstream. Once there, scientists say the particles stay longer in the brain than in other organs.

“There are gaps in our knowledge around the harmful effects of airborne fine particles on the central nervous system,” says study co-author Iseult Lynch, professor at the University of Birmingham, in a statement. “This work sheds new light on the link between inhaling particles and how they subsequently move around the body.”

Researchers say ultra fine particles from air pollution can escape the body’s protective systems. According to the study, there’s a “strong link between high levels of air pollution and marked neuroinflammation, Alzheimer’s-like changes and cognitive problems in older people and even in children.”

Scientists found that inhaled polluted air particles can enter the bloodstream after crossing the air-blood barrier, eventually reaching the brain. Once these particles are in the brain, they were hard to clear and retained for longer than in other organs.

“The data suggests that up to eight times the number of fine particles may reach the brain by traveling, via the bloodstream, from the lungs than pass directly via the nose — adding new evidence on the relationship between air pollution and detrimental effects of such particles on the brain,” says Lynch.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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