Scientists fear exposure to pollution could alter children’s brains

Exposure to polluted air in the womb and during a child’s first eight and a half years can change the brain, according to a new study.

he research, published in the environmental pollution Journal, has linked air pollution to white matter microstructure.

Traces of cerebral white matter provide the connection between different areas of the brain. This connectivity can be measured by observing the microstructure of this white matter as a marker of typical brain development.

Experts at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, who led the study, say the results are significant because abnormal white matter structure has been linked to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

The study found that the more a child was exposed to pollution before the age of five, the more brain structure was altered.

The researchers found that the greater the volume of the putamen, the greater the exposure to particulate matter during the first two years of life — dust, dirt, soot, smoke, or polluting liquids.

This is a brain structure involved in motor functions and learning processes, but has less specialized functions than the cortical structures.

“An enlarged putamen has been associated with certain psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder),” said ISGlobal researcher Anne-Claire Binter, who was a co-author of the study.

“One of the important conclusions of this study is that the infant brain is not only particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution during pregnancy, as shown in previous studies, but also during childhood.”

The study analyzed the impact of air pollution on 3,515 children each month until they turned eight years and six months old.

To determine exposure, experts estimated daily exposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in the children’s homes during the mother’s pregnancy and early in life.

After their ninth birthday, the children underwent imaging to examine the structural connectivity in their brains and the volumes of different brain structures.

According to Public Health England (PHE), air pollution is the number one environmental threat to health in the UK. PHE estimates that between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths each year result from long-term exposure to polluted air. Scientists fear exposure to pollution could alter children’s brains

Fry Electronics Team

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