According to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), India is the 2nd most polluted country globally, with around 55.8 µg/m3 of particulate pollution. With the increasing air pollution in your daily life, it is evident that the pollution might lead to health hazards. It is often thought that air pollution can cause damage to the lungs and other organs of the respiratory system. But have you ever thought about how the increasing pollution affects your mental health? Yes, you heard me right. According to a recent study published by the research group of the University of Birmingham, UK, exposure to air pollutants can deteriorate your mental health leading to cognitive diseases and neurological damage. In this article, let us talk about what this study was and what are the probable outcomes of this study.

effect of pollutions in health

The Study

According to a recent study done by the scientists of the University of Birmingham, UK, breathing in polluted and contaminated air can lead to the transportation of toxic particles from your lungs to your brain. This can potentially contribute to neurological disorders and brain damage. The scientists working on this study found the possibility of a direct pathway that can lead the inhaled fine particles to reach the brain through blood circulation and stay there for a longer period, thereby affecting the brain’s health.

The study conducted by the scientists published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the human cerebrospinal fluid collected from the patients with neurological disorders had a high concentration of fine particles. This gave rise to the fact that probably toxic particulate substances from the environment probably end up accumulating in the brain. One of the co-authors of the study accepted that there are still gaps in their knowledge as the effect of fine airborne particles on the central nervous system (CNS) still needs to be studied.

The present study has proved to be an important landmark in neuroscience as it establishes a link between toxic particles that you might inhale from the air and their subsequent movement in the body. According to the data collected by the research group, the fine particles may reach the brain in a greater concentration when traveling from the lungs through the blood as compared to those that pass directly through the nose. The lungs may pass eight times more fine particles to your brain than through the nose. This adds more relevance to the study and the established relationship between air pollution and the effect of such particles on the brain. 

The study also emphasized that although air pollution contains various toxic components, particulate matter is of most concern. Also, out of these particulate matter, the ambient fine particulate matter like PM2.5 cause more detrimental health effects than the other toxic components. The main reason behind this is that the ultrafine particles can escape the protective system, especially the body’s biological barriers and sentinel immune system, making it more capable of reaching the cerebrospinal fluid of the brain.
Strong evidence establishes the link between increased levels of air pollution and cognitive problems like marked neuroinflammation and Alzheimer’s-like changes in both adults and children.

According to the working group of researchers, the pollutants from the air that you inhale can enter the bloodstream, passing the air-blood barrier effectively. From the blood, these pollutants reach the brain and damage the brain-blood barrier and the surrounding tissues. These environmental particles are hard to remove from the brain and thus remain in the brain for a longer duration compared to the other body organs, leading to brain damage and neurodevelopmental disorders.

This study is scientifically important as it provides new evidence to prove the risk of the particulate matter present in the air on the central nervous system (CNS). However, like any other research, the scientists feel that there is a need to study more about how the ambient fine particulate matter inhaled by a human reaches their brain.

Thus, breathing in polluted air can lead to cognitive failure, neurological disorders, and brain damage. 

How can you prevent nerve health issues?

Pollution is something which will go with time, but meanwhile, you must prevent nerve health issues to avoid any mental illness. Some simple tips that can maintain the health of your nerve cells include:

  • Perform regular exercises like meditation to keep the cells of your nervous system active
  • Eat a balanced diet so that the nerve cells get proper nutrition
  • Adequate sleep and rest are also very important for mental health

What can you do to prevent mental health deterioration through air pollutants?

Minimizing air pollution and limiting exposure to air pollutants has become the need of the hour. As citizens of India, it becomes your responsibility to reduce air pollution so that a better environment is created for the next generation and the occurrence of neurological disorders can be reduced. Some of the simple steps that you can take to prevent air pollution and its exposure includes:

  • Avoid going to places that are polluted,
  • Wear a mask in polluted places,
  • If your work involves exposure to pollution, make sure you follow safety guidelines.
  • Use fewer vehicles to limit the emission,
  • Say no to deforestation,
  • Plant more trees as they act as natural cleaners,
  • Ensure that the environment around your home is neat and clean,
  • Limit the use of air conditioners and use fans instead,
  • Use filters for the chimneys present in your kitchen.


The current study published in PNAS by the research group at the University of Birmingham, UK, is an important finding in the field of neuroscience. The researchers’ findings in this study provide new evidence to evaluate the damage that exposure to particulate pollution can have on the central nervous system. However, to establish these findings, more research and evaluation must be done in the area concerned. Now that you know that exposure to air pollution can lead to neurological disorders, try to limit air pollution, avoid polluted places, and wear a mask wherever necessary. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Does air pollution affect intelligence?

The air pollution present in large cities can lead to short-term memory, lower intelligence quotient (IQ), and impaired cerebral metabolic rates.

  • What is the effect of air pollution on the brain?

The effect of air pollution on the brain includes:

  1. Damage to the cognitive ability of children
  2. Increased risk of cognitive decline in adults
  3. Depression
  • Which air pollutants affect the human nervous system?

The common air pollutants that are found to affect the human nervous system include PM2.5, PAHs, and NO2.

Ms. Srujana is Managing Editor of Cogito137, one of India’s leading student-run science communication magazines. I have been working in scientific and medical writing and editing since 2018. I am also associated with the quality assurance team of scientific journal editing. I am majoring in Chemistry with a minor in Biology at IISER Kolkata.

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