'First of its kind' study by B.C. scientists links air pollution to decrease in brain function

A new study by UBC and UVic researchers says exposure to pollution from diesel exhaust changes the function of the brain. Kamil Karamali has the details, and how you can lessen your risk.

Sobering research from B.C. scientists is raising questions about exhaust from trucks and cars.

A new study from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria shows exposure to traffic pollution can impair your brain function in a matter of hours.

The researchers exposed 25 adults to diesel exhaust and filtered air while measuring their brain activity before and after.

After two hours of exposure, they found decreased activity and connections in areas of the brain related to memory, internal thought, cognitive performance and symptoms of depression.

“People may want to think twice the next time they’re stuck in traffic with the windows rolled down,” said Dr. Chris Carlsten, the study’s senior author.

“It’s important to ensure that your car’s air filter is in good working order, and if you’re walking or biking down a busy street, consider diverting to a less busy route.”

Though the changes were temporary and their results returned to normal, scientists speculate that prolonged exposure could cause longer-term issues.

Carlsten said other air pollutants are also a concern, and B.C.’s wildfire season could pose a problem.

“Air pollution is now recognized as the largest environmental threat to human health and we are increasingly seeing the impacts across all major organ systems,” says Dr. Carlsten.

“I expect we would see similar impacts on the brain from exposure to other air pollutants, like forest fire smoke. With the increasing incidence of neurocognitive disorders, it’s an important consideration for public health officials and policymakers.”

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