A study published in the journal Brain found that women who are exposed to greater amounts of air pollution have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
More specifically, the researchers looked at exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) <2.5 ?m (PM2.5). This refers to atmospheric PM that has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3 percent of the diameter of a human hair.
PM2.5 comes from a variety of sources, including power plants, motor vehicles, airplanes, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, volcanic eruptions, and dust storms.
They’re more dangerous than larger particles because they remain airborne for longer, and because they bypass the nose and throat and penetrate more deeply into the lungs.
In addition to increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a large body of evidence has shown that long-term exposure to PM2.5 is associated with:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Lung disease
- Birth defects
- And more …
If you’re in the United States, you can use AirNow to check levels of PM2.5 (and other measures of air quality) in your area. Note that these levels will fluctuate throughout the year, depending on conditions.
For example, after the fires in California this year, many cities were experiencing air quality that was worse than virtually any other place in the world—in part due to higher PM2.5 levels.
If you live in a place that routinely has PM2.5 levels above the safe upper limit, consider investing in an air filter. Make sure it’s one that can filter fine particles like PM2.5.
There are many options on the market. The ones I typically recommend to my patients are:
- IQAir HealthPro Plus
We talk a lot about the importance of nutrition, sleep, stress management, and physical activity for health.
And those things are important.
But as this study shows, many other factors—some of which are not always in our direct control—also influence health.
These are the “social determinants of health,” the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work, and age. They include factors like socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, and social support networks.
The social determinants of health suggest that health is not simply an individual choice. It has a systemic basis.
Someone who is born in an urban neighborhood with poor air quality, limited access to food, high exposure to violence and stress, and low social support does not have the same chance of being healthy as someone who is born in an affluent neighborhood with clean air, safe streets, and a strong social support network.
As individuals, it’s important to focus on the things that are within our control that lead to better health.
And as a society, we need to continue to address the larger issues that impact health on a wider scale, like air and water quality, access to fresh food, access to true healthcare (rather than disease management), and more.