Air Pollution and Your Brain

November 17, 2014

Air Pollution and Your Brain 

 References: Levesque Jr Neurochemistry, Calderon BioMed Research 2013,  

You know that black stuff that comes out of the back of big trucks or busses? All those fumes. You thought it was benign?   Well, we are beginning to understand the danger it provides. As more and more humans crowd into big, polluted cities we have the opportunity to study what happens to them in response to that.   Big cities have lots of chemicals like ozone and carbon monoxide, but they also have lots of tiny particles – 2.5 to 10 micrometers come from wood fires, construction, and tire erosion. 

Smaller than 2.5 mcms comes from tailpipe emissions and power-plants and LPS particles (these are lipopolysaccharides or the proteins off of bacteria – polite term for sewer sludge). These little guys can get deep down into your lungs and kick off all sorts of immune reactions to your delicate lung lining. Then, there are the teeny, tiny < 0.1 mcm particles made by incinerators, engines, power plants. These little devils can penetrate anything. 

When accidents happen and children are tragically killed, autopies on them give us a window into these chemical effects. Most importantly, when you breath, these particles can penetrate the nerve cells in your nose which whisks them up into your brain. I’m kidding, right? No, I’m dead serious. The tiny size particle can make it up into your brain

In cities, it is pretty common to have levels of 50 mcg per cubic meter of these particles. By big roads you can get levels as high as 110 mcg per cubic meter. In fact, the closer you live to a big, busy road, the more you can measure these effects. Ok, so just what happens when this stuff gets into your brain? As a general rule, bad stuff. There have been many linking type studies to autism, MS, schizophrenia, sudden death, asthma, diabetes, ….want more? 

There is even research showing that babies are affected in their brains in the last three months of pregnancy, with impacts on their life long ability to make decisions, socialize fight inflammation. The process that happens is that those micro-particles activate the microglia in the brain (they are the main immune cell in the brain).   This activation sets off intense immunoexcitotoxicity which is part and parcel of every neurodegenerative disease. 

 In Levesque’s article above from Mexico City, he showed that 58% of kids have the same lesions in their frontal cortex that you find in Alzheimer’s.   If they had the APOE4 genotype, 100% of the kids had lesions – as kids! Kids living in low pollution areas had a 0% rate of those findings. When researchers look for what part of the brain is the most involved, they find the heaviest inflammatory burden in the part of the brain associated with Parkinson’s called the substantia nigra.   The second most involved area was the frontal cortex, the part associated with Alzheimer’s. There you have it. 

 WWW. What will work for me? Well, none of this does. I don’t want any of it. I live in pretty clean suburbs. I’ve stopped burning oil lamps in my home. The gunk on our windows bothered me. I bet it got in my lungs and brain too. I no longer follow big semi’s on the highway. I don’t burn my leaves in fall. I chop them.   I change the filters on my furnace every 3 months. And I’m paying attention to air, water and sewage pollution politics.   

 Pop Quiz

  1. Air pollution has particles in it from different sources, of which the smallest ones can penetrate into my brain through my nose. T or F.                 Answer:  Yuck. True
  1. In your brain, your immune system clears the stuff out through the glymph system, neutralizing it. T or F                       Answer:  Where do you get that?   It does clear it, but now without intense activation of the immune system.
  1. The parts of the brain that are most effected by this inflammation are the same parts that are involved in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. T or F                           Answer:  True
  1. The closer you live to a busy, heavily trafficked road, the worse it gets. T or F                   Answer:  True
  1. This problem can start before birth. T or F                           Answer:  Ouch, true.