EFFECTS OF POLLUTION IN MENTAL DEVELOPMENT

Kids running on grass hill with blue sky

In 2010, the Roger Torné Foundation conducted an interview with Josep Carreras for the Cuadernos del Aire magazine, in which he stated: “an advice in regard to breathing: it is important to inhale through the nose to avoid airborne impurities. Our nose works as an air filter and we need to take advantage of that”, “it is important to breathe pure air, environmental pollution is a serious problem for our planet, with which I am very sensitized” he added.

Scientists worldwide nowadays share this interest shown by Josep Carreras in 2010 towards the environmental issue. They still worry about getting to know that great unknown subject which contaminates our air and gets into our organism through our respiratory system, reaching our brain, as a recent study conducted by prestigious Spanish scientists in the field of health and the environment reveals.

The study, which was published in Neuroimage in 2016, recently referred to by SINC, states that the process of brain maturation is closely linked to the air that we breathe, slowing the maturation process down and causing changes in the brain associated to its functionality[1]. For this reason, as the article states, children are more vulnerable to the effects of environmental elements due to their active development process.

In order to assess the extent of potential effects of urban pollution in brain maturation, they measured vehicle exhaust (elemental carbon and nitrogen dioxide) as general indicators in the school environment and used a comprehensive imaging evaluation.

A group of 263 children, aged 8 to 12 years, underwent MRI to quantify regional brain volumes, tissue composition, myelination, cortical thickness, neural tract architecture, membrane metabolites, functional connectivity in major neural networks and activation/deactivation dynamics during a sensory task.

The results showed that exposure to air pollution was associated with brain changes of a functional nature, with no evident effect on brain anatomy, structure or membrane metabolites. Specifically, a higher content of pollutants was associated with lower functional integration and segregation in key brain networks relevant to both inner mental processes and stimulus driven mental operations. Age and performance both showed the opposite effect to that of pollution, thus indicating that higher exposure is associated with slower brain maturation.

The conclusion reached in the study is that urban air pollution appears to adversely affect brain maturation in a critical age with changes specifically concerning the functional domain.

Results showed that air pollution causes damage to children’s brain, affecting their cognitive development and, therefore, also their educational evolution. We cannot discard that such consequences are likely to have systemic effects on their personal and social development. As Josep Carreras said in his interview with Roger Torné Foundation, “children are our future and it is our responsibility to make sure that they grow in the healthiest way possible. It is important that the day that we look back in our lives, we can be satisfied with what we have brought into our planet”.

 

[1] Pujol J, Martinez-Vilavella G, Macia D, Fenoll R, Alvarez-Pedrerol M, Rivas I, Forns J, Blanco-Hinojo L, Capellades J, Querol X, Deus J, Sunyer J. Traffic pollution exposure is associated with altered brain connectivity in school childrenNeuroImage 2016;129:175-184.

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