Air Pollution Linked to Increased Anxiety, Depression Risks: Study

Particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides in air pollution appears to increase the risk of the mental health disorders.

Long-term exposure to air pollution, even at low levels that have previously been considered safe, appears to increase the risk of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, according to the findings of a new study.

In a report published this month in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry, Chinese and U.K. researchers conducted a study of nearly 400,000 participants using data from the U.K. Biobank from 2006 to 2010.

The participants had no history of depression or anxiety at the beginning of the study, and exposure to multiple air pollutants was tracked by researchers.

During the study, more than 13,000 patients were diagnosed with depression and nearly 16,000 with anxiety. The researchers found that participants with long-term exposure to air pollution had a greater risk of depression, including exposure to particulate matter (PM) 2.5, PM 10, nitrogen dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.

The research indicated the link between increased anxiety and exposure to PM 2.5 was higher among men compared to women.

While thestudy does not prove causation, it does points to a link between air pollution exposure and negative effects on mental health, the researchers concluded. The exact process is unknown, but the researchers suggested exposure to harmful pollutants can lead to inflammation, which can cause side effects to the central nervous system and other areas of the body.

Air Pollution Risks

Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 is a type of air pollution made up of tiny particles of dirt, liquid, smoke, and soot, which are smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or less than the width of a single human hair. It comes from coal and gas manufacturing plants, cars, construction, and wildfires. The particles are easily inhaled into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, which can lead to serious health effects.

Nitrogen dioxide pollution comes from traffic-related sources and nitrogen oxides are released from oil and coal burning.

Exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased likelihood of developing asthma in children and other respiratory problems, like bronchitis and wheezing. Exposure during childhood has also been linked to developing heart disease and other heart problems later in adulthood.

Those who lived in areas with higher levels of pollution faced an increased risk of depression and anxiety, according to the findings. The risk was present even for low levels of pollution below U.K. air quality standards.

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Other studies have linked air pollution exposure to increased risk of preterm and underweight birth infants. Air pollution may cause 6 million preterm births and 3 million underweight babies every year around the world.

Even low levels, like what was seen in the findings of the new study, can increase a person’s risk of suffering from Dementia later in life, previous studies have found.

The new research adds to a body of evidence pointing to widespread health side effects in the human body. The findings are troubling considering nearly half of the population in the United States live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

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