Aspirin and Other NSAIDS May Help Protect Against Air Pollution Side Effects: Study

The findings of a new study suggests aspirin, Advil and other NSAID-based pain medications may help reduce some of the harmful effects of air pollution, which is known to have effects on the brain and lead to cognitive side effects.

In a report published this month in the medical journal Nature Aging, researchers highlight the benefits of taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to protect against the health risks associated with air pollution, and specifically particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), which is a mix of tiny particles of soot, dust and dirt that can easily enter the human lungs and move through the bloodstream.

Researchers from Columbia University and Harvard studied 954 white males with an average age of 69, living in the Boston area. The cognitive performance of the men was tested at the start of the study and several times over the next 28 days using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE); a widely used test of cognitive ability. The MMSE includes questions like, “What year is this,” and “What season is it?” It also asks participants to count backward by sevens from 100. Correctly answering fewer than 25 of its 30 questions suggests mild dementia.

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Researchers also measured air levels of PM 2.5 in the area during the study.

Overall, men who had higher exposure to fine particulate matter had lower cognitive test scores. During weeks with the highest levels, participants were 63% more likely to score below 25 on the MMSE test. Even low levels resulted in lower cognitive scores.

However, the researchers discovered men taking NSAIDs, like aspirin and Advil, had some protection from the negative cognitive effects of air pollution. The researchers speculate NSAIDs may help by reducing the inflammatory response to pollutants in the brain and nervous system.

PM 2.5 is smaller than a single strand of human hair, and is a form of air pollution that is known to have many harmful side effects on human health, ranging from cognitive impairment resulting in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease to increased heart and lung problems among the elderly. Studies have shown air pollution may negatively impact fetal heart development and increase a child’s risk of suffering from asthma.

While the study indicated drugs like Bayer, Excedrin, and Aleve may help reduce the effects air pollution may have on the brain and on cognitive performance, researchers are not recommending taking NSAIDs as a precaution. Instead, they recommend focusing on things that can promote a healthy lifestyle, like eating healthy and exercising, may make a bigger impact on preventing cognitive decline.

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