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How Does Air Pollution from Traffic Impact Brain Function?


fMRI shows decreased functional connectivity in the brain following exposure to traffic pollution.
fMRI shows decreased functional connectivity in the brain following exposure to traffic pollution.

A new study has shown that common levels of traffic pollution can impair human brain function in only a matter of hours. (Air Pollution Impact)

The study was the first to show in a controlled experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that exposure to diesel exhaust disrupts the ability of different areas of the human brain to interact and communicate with each other.




New research published in the journal Environmental Health reveals startling effects of diesel exhaust on the human brain. In a groundbreaking study, just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust led to a decrease in the brain's functional connectivity. This measure reflects how different regions of the brain communicate with each other. These findings highlight the profound impact of air pollution on our neurological health, providing crucial evidence from a controlled experiment.


Interference of the nose-to-brain delivery pathways of air pollution PM and SARS-CoV-2 and their effects in brain nerve terminals
Interference of the nose-to-brain delivery pathways of air pollution PM and SARS-CoV-2 and their effects on brain nerve terminals

“For many decades, scientists thought the brain may be protected from the harmful effects of air pollution,” said senior study author Dr. Chris Carlsten, professor and head of respiratory medicine and the Canada Research Chair in occupational and environmental lung disease at UBC. “This study, which is the first of its kind in the world, provides fresh evidence supporting a connection between air pollution and cognition.”


How does air pollution affect our brain

For the study, the researchers briefly exposed 25 healthy adults to diesel exhaust and filtered air at different times in a laboratory setting. Brain activity was measured before and after each exposure using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).



The Effects of Pollutants on The Brain

Pollutants from traffic have been found to have multiple adverse effects on the brain, including:

  • Reduced mood and cognitive ability

  • Decreased memory and concentration

  • Risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease

  • Decline in thinking skills and learning


Particulate air pollution

Taking Steps Reducing the Risk of Brain Damage


Remarkably, the changes in the brain were only temporary, and after the exposure, the participants’ brains went back to normal. Dr. Carlsten thought that the effects might last for a long time if the exposure is constant. He said that people should be aware of the air they breathe and do what they need to do to limit their exposure to dangerous air pollutants like vehicle exhausts.


“The next time people are stuck in traffic with their windows down, they might want to think twice,” said Dr. Carlsten. “It’s important to make sure your car’s air filter is in good shape, and if you’re walking or biking down a busy street, you might want to take a different path.”

To minimize the impact of traffic-related air pollution, individuals and governments can take steps to reduce their exposure to these harmful pollutants and protect their brain health. This includes:


  • Encouraging the use of public transport, cycling, or walking

  • Promoting the use of electric or hybrid vehicles

  • Making sure that vehicles are well-maintained to reduce emissions

Does Air pollution from raffic damage our brain, blog by ubreathe natural air purifiers

Even though the current study only looked at the cognitive effects of pollution from traffic, Dr. Carlsten said that other combustion products are probably also a problem.


Traffic pollution has a clear and established impact on brain function and can impair cognitive, memory, and learning abilities. Reducing exposure to these pollutants is essential for maintaining healthy cognitive function, and this can be achieved through public transportation, alternative fuel sources, and effective air filtering.


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