Pollution Increases Your Risk of Mental Illness

The largest scientific study of this kind to date has found that living in an area with high air pollution increases the chances of suffering from a mental illness or major depression.

Pollution significantly deteriorates the quality and life expectancy, increasing the risk of suffering various diseases. Studies have indicated its link with childhood obesity, the greater possibilities of suffering from autism, its relationship with dementia, the loss of intelligence or even how it negatively affects happiness. Taking a look at the chilling data, it kills 400,000 Europeans every year and 95% of the world's population breathes polluted air.

Published in PLOS One, this study is the largest so far when investigating the link between emissions and neuropsychiatric disorders. Its leaders, from the University of Chicago, compared 151 million health insurance records with pollution statistics in the United States. Afterwards, they verified their findings using data from health records covering 1.4 million people in Denmark.

Americans living in the most polluted areas recorded a 27% increase in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, while incidents of major depression increased by 6%. Similarly, Danes who were exposed to high emissions before age 10 were 50% more likely to suffer from major depression in adulthood and more than twice the risk of schizophrenia and personality disorders, compared to people who grew up under purer air.

The results show that improving air quality could offer a primary care opportunity to prevent mental illness. Atik Khan, computational biologist and lead author of the study notes that "studies in the United States and Denmark show that living in polluted areas, especially at the beginning of life, is predictive of mental disorders", emphasizing the connection between neurological and psychiatric diseases with the physical environment, and particularly the air quality.

Although genetic variations that make some people more susceptible to mental health problems have been investigated in recent years, DNA seems to represent only 10% of the risk for most people. Behind each disease there is a complex interaction of genetic, neurochemical and social factors.

Recent studies on rodents have shown that small particles, such as those emitted by diesel engines, can travel to the brain through the nose and lungs, while animals exposed to contamination have shown signs of cognitive impairment and symptoms similar to the Depression.

"We presume that contaminants could affect our brains through neuroinflammatory pathways that have also been shown to cause signs similar to depression in animal studies," said Andrey Rzhetsky, who led the new study.

Air pollution has already been implicated in lung diseases, diabetes and heart attacks, while in 2016 researchers at Lancaster University discovered that magnetic particles produced by car engines and brakes in the brains of people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease.