Air pollution makes you feel even more blue

8 Januari 2020

If you feel blue quite a lot, you may do well to head to a place with clean air. Air pollution markedly increases rates of depression, which means that the obverse is also true: reducing your exposure to toxic air can help lift the blues.

That is according to a new study by scientists at University College London, who based their findings on data collected from 16 countries.

They found that reducing global average exposure to concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from 44 µg/m3 (micrograms per meter cubed) to 25µg/m3 could lead to a 15% drop in risks of depression worldwide. The risk of suicide would also be somewhat lower as a result.

“We already know that air pollution is bad for people’s health, with numerous physical health risks ranging from heart and lung disease to stroke and a higher risk of dementia,” explains the study’s lead author, Dr. Isobel Braithwaite, of UCL’s Institute of Health Informatics.

The study, she adds, shows that “air pollution could be causing substantial harm to our mental health as well, making the case for cleaning up the air we breathe even more urgent.”

That should come as no surprise as another study recently confirmed that being exposed to high levels of air pollution makes people less happy in their daily lives.

For the new study, the researchers at UCL examined the results of several long-term studies on the effects of prolonged exposure to toxic air. They found that a 10μg/m3 increase in the average level of PM2.5 to which people were exposed over a longer period could be linked to a 10% increase in their risk of depression. In addition, the risk of suicide also increases on days when pollution levels have stayed higher for days than after less polluted periods.

“We know that the finest particulates from dirty air can reach the brain via both the bloodstream and the nose, and air pollution has been implicated in increased neuroinflammation, damage to nerve cells and to changes in stress hormone production, which have been linked to poor mental health,” Braithwaite observes.

The findings of this new study is in line with those of numerous other studies that have found causal links between prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution and various mental impairments from learning difficulties in children to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in adults. Air pollution can even trigger psychotic experiences.

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