Learn about a recent study linking dementia to poor outdoor and indoor air quality, and how home air filters may be a key investment in preventing its symptoms.
While the most common reasons cited by people using home air filters are to prevent allergy attacks and improve/protect the respiratory health of people living in the home or building, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that air pollution doesn’t just affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, it can also have a negative impact on cognitive function.
More specifically, air pollution has been linked to a greater risk of dementia. According to a new study, there is a positive correlation between high levels of residential air pollution and a diagnosis of dementia. The study’s lead author, Dr. Iain Carey of St. George’s, University of London, notes that older patients across London who were living in parts of the city with high air pollution were more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
“There is evidence that the tiny airborne particles that make up air pollution can wind up in vital organs like the brain,” explains Camfil USA’s Charlie Seyffer, Manager of Marketing & Technical Materials for commercial air filters and 37-year ASHRAE member and active committee participant. “There have been correlations in studies suggesting that air pollution may play a serious role in the development of dementia.”
But what exactly makes air pollution so dangerous, and why do we need to be wary of its effects?
What is Air Pollution and How Does It Affect Indoor Air Quality?
What we can be certain of, however, is that prolonged exposure to poor indoor air quality is bad for the human body. When we think of air pollution like smog, we simply think of it as “dirty air.” But air pollution is a complex mixture of toxic gases, particles, and liquid droplets in the atmosphere, produced by both natural causes such as volcanoes and wildfires, and also human activity like cars, factories, and power plants.
Long-term exposure or even brief exposure to high levels of air pollution can have toxic effects, causing all kinds of problems for the lungs and heart.
“Most of the research around air pollution centers on the effects of fine particulate matter or PM2.5,” says Seyffer. “This refers to particles that are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, or approximately one-quarter the width of a strand of human hair.”
In the United States, airborne pollutants are classified as either being criteria or hazardous.
- Criteria air pollutants are produced by combustion processes from cars, factories and power plants. These pollutants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter.
- On the other hand, hazardous air pollutants refer to toxic chemical fumes, specifically arsenic, mercury, and benzene.
HEPA Filtration Systems May Be Crucial in Preventing Neurodegenerative Diseases
The UK study’s findings are consistent with other reports on the effects of air pollution on brain function, suggesting that HEPA filtration systems, which are designed to capture and remove airborne pollutants in indoor environments, may play a vital role in preventing these issues.
In 2017, The Lancet published a review of diseases associated with environmental pollution, showing that air pollution accounted for the most number of fatalities and health complications caused by pollution. The report, which sourced data from a variety of air pollution and health studies, also highlighted the need to further investigate the link between air pollution and its effect on brain function, particularly among children and seniors, whose brain function is in the developing and aging stages, respectively.
The report cites particle pollution found in car exhaust, a potential cause of increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases and neurodevelopmental disorders such as:
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Learning and intellectual disabilities
The report’s findings, however, are far from conclusive, with the authors pointing out that even if air pollution was a risk factor, the next problem is to identify what types of pollutants are linked to brain function, and if secondary factors, like age, gender, and pre-existing conditions are also involved. It might even be that poor diet, which is common among low-income families that often live in areas with high pollution, may be a contributing factor.
Preventing the Effect of Air Pollution on the Brain with Home Air Purifiers
The good news is that particulate matter, the suspected key culprit in air pollution-related neurodegenerative diseases and neurodevelopmental disorders, is easily captured and removed by modern home air purifiers.
More specifically, a study that analyzed the brain tissue of residents in Manchester and Mexico City found that magnetite particles, which are released into the air by burning fossil fuels, can enter the lungs, cross the bloodstream, and end up in the brain. The brain also produces magnetite naturally, which seems to suggest that higher than normal levels of magnetite particles in the brain may cause abnormalities.
To differentiate natural magnetite and magnetite particles from air pollution, the researchers used a special electron microscope to analyze the surface properties of the magnetite particles. They found that the magnetite particles in the brain were produced under high temperatures—the same temperatures found in a combustion engine—proving that these pollutants can indeed travel through the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier.
Home Air Filtration Systems and Alzheimer’s Disease
The study also suggests that using home air filtration systems to remove magnetite particles may help in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers discovered that the particles had lodged themselves into protein deposits called amyloid plaques, which have been observed in large quantities in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This observation has led to the suspicion that magnetite may be a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The problem, however, is that for now there is no evidence that magnetite itself may be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Still, there are strong links between amyloid plaques and magnetite levels—a correlation that’s enough to warrant further research.
Choosing Home Air Purification Systems
Even if the links between air pollution and brain diseases and disorders have yet to be fully established, there are plenty of other reasons to install home air purification systems in your home.
For starters, air filter systems are especially useful for preventing allergy attacks and respiratory ailments like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), and bronchitis among others. For individuals with these pre-existing conditions, home air filters may very well be a lifesaver.
Before buying air purification systems for your home, it’s best to consult the advice of a reliable air filter manufacturer. These companies can assess the containment needs and air quality issues of your home or building before recommending a proper-strength air filtration solution. For best results, you may be advised to install a combination of a HEPA filter and a gaseous filtration system.
- A first stage of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that are capable of capturing and removing particulate matter (PM) smaller than 0.3- micron in diameter at a minimal rate of 99.97 percent.
- And a second stage with a gaseous filtration system designed to capture molecular pollutants like odor-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using a super absorbent fiber material that typically includes activated carbon.
For all your air filtration needs, talk to the experts of Camfil USA. Get in touch with the Camfil USA team to learn more about the different ways our solutions can protect the indoor air quality inside your home. You may also explore our catalog of home air filters to learn more about our product line.
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