Study Discovers Air Pollution Particles in the Human Brain

A new study from Lancaster University has discovered toxic nanoparticles from air pollution in large quantities in human brains. The researchers examined brain tissue from 37 people aged between 3 and 92 years old in the U.K. and Mexico. Magnetite, a type of iron oxide, was found in massive quantities in the samples Ė millions of particles per gram of brain tissue.

Finding any particles connected to air pollution in the human brain would be troubling, but magnetite is particularly concerning. Recent research has found that these particles may be linked to Alzheimerís disease, and exposure air pollution has been shown to significantly increase the risk of developing the illness. While thereís been no definitive proof yet that these particles cause the disease, the link is enough to make health researchers wary.

While magnetite is known to form naturally in brain tissue, the biological variety is small and crystal-shaped. The particles associated with air pollution and suspected to be harmful are large and spherical, formed as molten droplets from combustion sources such as industrial processes or car exhaust. The study found about 100 times the pollution-linked particles as it did the naturally-occurring ones. This ratio makes sense when you consider that roadside air analysis in Lancaster, England found as many as 200 million of these particles per cubic meter.

The study also found other metal particles in the brain that are suspected to come from car exhaust, including platinum, cobalt and nickel. Itís believed that these particles are able to build up due to the unique way the body processes inhaled substances. When air pollution enters the nose, itís able to completely bypass the blood-brain barrier and directly enter the brain through the nose.

This isnít the first time air pollution has been linked to serious health issues, although in the past the effects have mostly been linked to lung and heart disease. Emerging research has only begun to uncover links to the brain in recent years, which can potentially manifest as reduced intelligence or mental illness. Thereís even research which shows that prenatal exposure to air pollution raises a childís risk of autism. Itís also been linked more generally to dementia and brain damage.

While this new research is troubling, Alzheimerís disease researchers have been quick to stress that there are still many actions you can take to reduce your risk of developing the disease, even if are unable to avoid exposure to traffic exhaust. Speaking to the Guardian, Dr. Clare Walton of the Alzheimerís Society stressed that regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding smoking were all proactive steps that can lower the risk of developing dementia later in life.

The new study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago


Barbara A.
Barbara Aabout a year ago


Brian F.
Brian Fabout a year ago

The solar electric ELF from Organic Transit has a solar panel mounted on its roof. It could be a replacement for dirty cars in cities. The Netherlands invented the Stella, which has a solar panel mounted on its roof, and can go 500 miles to a charge.

Gerald L.
Gerald Labout a year ago

Solar panels on electric vehicle roofs maybe a health problem.

Ref: EMF radiation | Tesla Motors
Sep 25, 2010 - I drive a hybrid and the EMF's are very strong in the car causing me to become exhausted on a long trip. ... In Switzerland shielding materials are installed on rooftops of schools and other institutions before installing solar systems. ..... sensitive to EMF and are in fact effected by driving a hybrid or electric car.

LF Fabout a year ago

And half of the air pollution was prob received in the tiny public enclosed restroom w the air fresher spray that squirts you in the face while you try to relieve yourself. Ack.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Patty L.
Patty Labout a year ago

figures, tyfs

Janet B.
Janet Babout a year ago


Brian F.
Brian Fabout a year ago

The Netherlands developed the Stella, which is a solar powered car. We need to replace dirty gas cars with electric cars.

heather g.
heather gabout a year ago

I'm well aware of these problems but our Municipality doesn't act on the problem.