Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:24 pm

Emerging evidence suggests that air pollution has an impact on the neurological development of children and is linked to childhood anxiety…

We know that exposure to air pollution is a well-established global health problem. It is associated with complications for people with asthma and respiratory disease, as well as heart conditions and an increased risk of stroke.

According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths annually. Now, emerging evidence suggests that air pollution may also have an impact on the metabolic and neurological development of children.

How air pollution relates to childhood anxiety

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center studied the correlation between exposure to traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) and childhood anxiety, by looking at the altered neurochemistry in pre-adolescents.

“Recent evidence suggests the central nervous system is particularly vulnerable to air pollution, suggesting a role in the etiology of mental disorders, like anxiety or depression,” says Kelly Brunst, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the College of Medicine, and lead author on the study.

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“This is the first study to use neuroimaging to evaluate TRAP exposure, metabolite dysregulation in the brain and generalised anxiety symptoms among otherwise healthy children,” says Brunst.

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Inside the minds of children

The researchers evaluated imaging of 145 children at an average age of 12 years, looking specifically at the levels of myo-inositol found in the brain through a specialised MRI technique, magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Myo-inositol is a naturally-occurring metabolite mainly found in specialised brain cells known as glial cells, that assists with maintaining cell volume and fluid balance in the brain, and serves as a regulator for hormones and insulin in the body. Increases in myo-inositol levels correlate with an increased population of glial cells, which often occurs in states of inflammation.

They found that, among those exposed to higher levels of recent TRAP, there were significant increases of myo-inositol in the brain, compared to those with lower TRAP exposure. They also observed increases in myo-inositol to be associated with more generalised anxiety symptoms.

“In the higher, recent exposure group, we saw a 12% increase in anxiety symptoms,” says Brunst.

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Source: University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center

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