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Scientists Link Air Pollution to Silent Strokes

April 27, 2015
Environmental Health

A new study published in the journal Stroke, has linked exposure to particulate pollution with so called ‘silent strokes’; referred to as a covert brain infarct, a ‘silent stroke’ creates a small area of damage to the brain caused by a lack of oxygen to the tissue. Researchers found that every 2µg/ m3 increase in particulate matter was associated with a 37% increase in the risk of suffering damage.

The study involved brain scans from 943 healthy adults aged over 60, living in New England. Pollution levels based on PM2.5 exposure, were estimated for each of the subjects’ homes while taking into account how close they lived to roads of different sizes. Results were only estimated for a one year period and did not relate to life time exposure.

“Long-term exposure to air pollution showed harmful effects on the brain in this study, even at low levels, particularly with older people and even those who are relatively healthy,” said Elissa H. Wilker, Sc.D., study lead author and researcher in cardiovascular epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “The magnitude of association that we observed for brain volume was similar to approximately one year of brain aging.”

The study comes as the government are awaiting the ruling of the Supreme Court on the case taken by environmental charity, Climate Earth over the UK’s failure to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits. A verdict is expected to be announced on Wednesday (29th April).