Air Pollution, Depression, & Bipolar. Stealthy Threats Are Hard To Escape:
Science has been trying to decode the origins and fixes to different problems for a long time.
And one set that still baffles researchers to this day is psychological problems.
Where do they come from? Chemical Imbalance? Genetics? Aliens?
The problem for many stealthy health issues is that there are few easy answers or perfect 1-shot treatments.
And in the latest effort to track them down, a team led by U. Chicago is going after mental-illness in an odd place: Air Pollution…
So Is It Nature, Nurture, Or The Natural Environment?:
Whenever they look at a human problem, scientists try to figure out if the origin is something inherited, or from the environment around someone.
But that environment usually means Parents, Relations & People.
So the choice to look at pollution in the natural environment around children is an interesting twist.
But The Short Answer for this research is that areas with higher Air & Soil pollution in more than 1 study have been correlated with significantly higher rates of Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and other Personality Disorders too.
Read on to find out the details…
Retro-Science Rears Its Smoggy Head:
So people used to think about air pollution and smog a long time ago in the 60s and 70s, but they really don’t now.
-Your average hysterical eco-mentalist aside.
And more people than ever since the 60s are moving back into and around big cities.
So this research might become more relevant with time.
And one of the big reasons for the Nature/Nurture argument is that even though things like Depression can have a tendency to run in families,
There is usually a 10-percent or less correlation between someone’s genetics and their rate of having a specific mental illness.
Surprising, but science doesn’t yet have a smoking-gun.
And that’s why researchers went looking in other places from the past for the smoke.
Two Groups Of Big Data Suggest Big Conclusions:
So Dr. Andrey Rzhetsky put together a team to go looking in weird places, starting with Big Data.
And one of the first places the went to was a health insurance database of about 150 million people.
This set had about 10 years of data on people with all types of psychiatric problems.
The next step was to overlay that data with EPA air-quality warnings for more than 80 different pollutants across the country.
And when they intersected the two?
The counties with the worst air quality from pollution also had the highest-association with psychiatric problems.
1) Bipolar Disorder: 27% Increase
2) Depression: 6% Increase
3) Personality Disorders: Highly-Correlated to Soil Pollution.
If One Set Of Big Data Is Good, Then Two Is Better:
One of the problems with observational studies is that they tend to only show Correlation, not necessarily Causation.
So they generally tend to need a lot more substance to confirm the idea.
And the UC team looked around the globe to find other data as good as the EPA’s on pollution.
That’s why they landed in Denmark.
And they had even better data than the good ole’ US of A!
So with more than 20 years of data collected from much higher-resolution samples on almost 1.5 million people,
A Danish team helped out the Americans and looked at their own rates of psychiatric problems.
They found that localities with air quality problems were associated to the following-extents:
1) Bipolar Disorder: 29% Increase
2) Depression: 50% Increase
3) Schizophrenia: almost 150% Increase
4) Personality Disorders: about 160% Increase
How Could Air Pollution Actually Cause Depression Or Bipolar?:
If you think about people and sicknesses they get, it’s usually the very old and very young who are at the highest-risk.
And the UC study seems to imply that air-pollution risks are impacting mostly developing brains in children.
So a few of the 87 pollutants studied are
1) NOx (oxides of Nitrogen)
2) SOx (sulfur dioxide and other compounds)
3) PM2.5 (superfine particulate matter 10% the diameter of a human hair)
Other work shows all of these are generally assumed to get into the lungs & sinuses causing significant-increases in respiratory illness,
NOX gases are especially good at that.
Then from there, they cause circulatory-problems and heart-disease.
And specifically the PM2.5 superfine-particulates are said to be so fine, they actually get embedded in the olfactory-nerve,
And then travel to the back of the brain where that nerve connects.
Respiratory, Cardiovascular, Brain-Inflammation:
From there, that causes a cascade of inflammation in the brain that then travels everywhere else.
And we already know that systemic-inflammation can make its way into the brain and has a high-correlation with depression in several studies.
Anxiety may also be implicated, because those two tend to travel in pairs, too.
PM2.5 is also associated with a higher incidence of Cancer.
Now the really-crappy part we hinted at in the beginning is that it’s one thing if it affects an Adult,
But what about the effects on a smaller person, like a Child?
Those problems might start early in life, affect their development in profound ways going forward, and be very hard to overcome even with treatment.
Where Does This Happen?:
Another study from the earlier post showed that some areas are riskier than others.
Specifically, living within 300 feet of a major roadway, especially one that carries any commercial traffic.
Because that’s where all the traffic & smog is.
Especially from Diesel cars & trucks.
For NOX gases, Diesels pollute 1150% more than the average car.
As far as Particulate Matter, especially the superfine stuff, conservatively put out 100x the amount the average gas-powered car does.
And just because there are emissions-standards doesn’t mean every truck meets them.
The Only Diesel That Doesn’t Kill You Is A Brand-New One:
Because Diesels are generally much older, last longer, and travel many more miles than any gas-powered fleet, with only taxis being in close-contention.
Any diesel vehicle older than about 2015 would not have the advanced particulate filter that allegedly reduces that type of emissions to undetectable levels.
Though to throw them at least some type of bone,
A petrol-powered car will produce 10x the Particulate-Matter pollution of the newest-technology diesels if the latter is used in optimal, non-Volkswagen, conditions and are maintained and replaced on a perfect-schedule.
The main problem with that, is those filters clog-up fast, especially in city-traffic and are rarely maintained on a perfect schedule.
So you’re back to gambling again.
What Can I Do About It?:
The best advice so-far is to heed the Canadian study and try to live at least 300 feet away from major roads with high-traffic,
The posts on Forest Bathing & Time Spent In Nature help reinforce that idea, too.
You can also get your soil tested at a lab for pollutants on the EPA’s list,
To make sure the dirt the kids are eating when they go outside & play is as non-toxic as it can be.
Because as-far as the new-technology for cars & trucks,
Even in the US where congestion is not as bad as in places like London,
And there are a lot less Diesels,
That tech has to be PERFECTLY implemented & maintained to reduce the risks.
Before The Regulators Fix This, Filters May Help:
So if you have to go outside within +/- 1.5 hours of rush hour even if the kids don’t,
Maybe a particulate-mask like they sell on Amazon will offer at-least some type of protection.
You can also get an aftermarket activated-carbon+HEPA filter for your car’s cabin air-filter if you don’t take mass-transit.
That will catch a lot of the particulates, too.
Until the day that all heavy-machinery on the roads is either running on Hydrogen or renewable-powered electricity,
We can just hope that legislators and regulators heed these types of studies,
Including the ones from London & China that showed an association with Alzheimer’s and cognitive-impairment of about 10%,
And that they keep insisting on stricter-standards and more frequent testing & licensing for heavy-transport.
If they don’t, along with the respiratory, circulatory, and malignant-disease problems,
Air pollution will probably continue to be associated with psychological problems like depression, bipolar and others, the more datasets come in.
Photo Credits: “Factory Chimney Smoke”, by veeterzy
• Source: U of C
• More Coverage: HT- Air Pollution Dementia London & China | Env.Health – Assessment of the capacity of vehicle cabin air inlet filters to reduce diesel exhaust-induced symptoms in human volunteers
• Source Study: PLOSBio – Environmental pollution is associated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders in the US and Denmark