Feeling depressed? You can blame also air pollution

A new study has shown that air pollution not only affects our respiratory organs, but in fact our entire body, even brain. Air pollution is even a contributing factor to mental health diseases, such as depression or suicidal tendencies. By just meeting the EU air pollution limit, 15% of depression cases may be prevented.

Dirty air contains some very small particles, called PM, which, if they are smaller than 0.0025 mm (PM2.5), can enter the blood stream and travel to the brain. There, they can cause brain inflammation, damage to nerve cells and changes in stress hormone production. All these factors are contributing factors to the development of depression. In fact, air pollution can quadruple the risk of depression in teenagers. When the PM2.5 concentration increases for 10 µg/m3, the risk of depression increases for 19%. This increase in air pollution also causes a rise in suicide rate by 5%.

Not only does air pollution have a detrimental effect on depression, but also on a variety of other diseases. For example, pollution can cause a reduction in intelligence and dementia, austism or stroke, to list some more neurological symptoms. In addition, it affects nearly every organ in our bodies, and furthermore, possibly even our cells. Prenatal NO2 exposure may for example lead to change in DNA expression of some of the crucial genes related to metabolism and immune response. In this way, air pollution can reduce fertility, lead to Chron’s disease and a number of cancers, such as kidney cancer.

Air pollution in Europe

While air pollution is the worst in some of the megacities in developing countries, such as Delhi, India or Hong Kong, China, even European situation is not perfect. While the EU limit for PM2.5 is at 25 µg/m3, the World Health Organisation recommends levels below 10 µg/m3. In 2017, most countries had PM2.5 values between 10-20, but in quite a few places the values were even as high as 25-30 PM µg/m3. A map with average PM2.5 values in 2017 is below.

The main causes of air pollution are the industry and transport. By walking or cycling, we can all help to reduce the pollution problem, but also large systemic changes need to occur in this field. With the increasing number of roads and traffic on them, less and less of the environment is free of this pollution. Yet, in all Wilderness, there is no road traffic, therefore these may be the areas in Europe with lowest air pollution. Preserving the Wilderness is therefore important not only for its natural value, but also for human health, as it can give its visitors, and also its wild residents, a break from dirty air.

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