According to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, exposure to air pollution, even over the course of just a few weeks, can adversely affect mental performance. However, these side effects have been reduced in people taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin. The study is among the first to explore short-term exposures to air pollution and the use of NSAIDs to mitigate their effects. The results are published in the journal Aging of nature.
Examples of events that would increase a person’s exposure to short-term air pollution could include forest fires, smog, second-hand cigarette smoke, charcoal grills, and traffic jams.
Researchers examined the relationship between exposures to fine particles (PM2.5) and carbon black, a component of PM, and cognitive performance in 954 older white men from the Greater Boston area enrolled in the normative study. on aging. They also looked at whether taking NSAIDs could affect their relationships. Cognitive performance was assessed using the Global Cognitive Function (GCF) and Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scales. Air pollution levels were obtained from a Boston site.
High mean exposure to PM2.5 for 28 days was associated with decreases in GCF and MMSE scores. Men who took NSAIDs experienced fewer short-term adverse effects from exposure to air pollution on cognitive health than nonusers, although there is no direct association between recent use of NSAIDs and cognitive performance. Researchers postulate that NSAIDs, especially aspirin, can moderate neuroinflammation or changes in blood flow to the brain triggered by inhaling pollution.
“Despite emission regulations, short-term air pollution peaks remain frequent and can adversely affect health, including at levels below those usually considered dangerous,” says lead author Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD , Chairman of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “Taking aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs appears to mitigate these effects, although policy changes to further restrict air pollution are still warranted.”
The link between long-term exposure to particles and impaired cognitive performance in the aging population is well established. The reported effects include reduced brain size, cognitive impairments, and the development of dementia. Air pollution has also been linked to poor cognition in children and adults. Until now, however, little was known about the effects of short-term exposure to air pollution.
Researchers say future studies should investigate the specific effects of chemicals in air pollution on cognitive performance, sources of exposure in the environment, and whether cognitive impairments due to short-term exposures to air pollution are transient or persistent. Randomized clinical trials on the use of NSAIDs are needed to validate their protective effects.
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