A new study has found an alarming link between exposure to wildfire smoke and brain diseases — which can include dementia — as scientists attempted to find the impact of poor air quality on human health.
Scientists warned in their new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, about dementia in their later life if people are persistently exposed to wildfire smoke.
Lead author of the study Boya Zhang said: “Wildfires incinerate everything in their path, emitting a mixture of fine particles that may be more neurotoxic than particles originating elsewhere.”
Scientists have been concerned about the microscopic particles like PM2.5 that may bypass our body’s resistance and enter into our organs.
It is said that such pollution can cause neurological diseases however, it is left to explore whether PM2.5 can cause this condition.
Sara Adar, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Michigan and an author of the new study said: “In the western US, there are regions where half of people’s annual exposure to fine particulate pollution is caused by wildfire smoke.”
“And we know that wildfire smoke is becoming more frequent and more severe,” she said.
Marc Weisskopf, an environmental epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health who was not involved in the study noted: “I think this is the next direction we need to go in. We need to know if there are certain [PM2.5] sources that really impact dementia so we can figure out what to regulate and where.”
According to researchers’ estimation, nearly 188,000 new cases of dementia every year were linked to total PM2.5 exposure in the country.
After adjusting other risk factors into their study, the team found that “only wildfire smoke and agricultural emissions were linked to the disease.”
It was revealed that PM2.5 emitted from agricultural activity was highly concentrated in the Midwest.
Zhang said: “Toxic components of pesticides used in agriculture can bind with fine particulates in the area, such as windblown soil, and may harm human brains if inhaled.”
“The entire way in which pesticides work is by being a neurotoxin to animals,” said Adar.
Researchers noted that over 7 million people in the US had dementia in 2020. As a large number of people began to age, the number is expected to rise to nearly 12 million in 2040.
The study suggested reducing exposure to such pollution which may help lower the risk of developing the disease. But, further research is required to confirm the findings.
Zhang suggested people stay at home, not exercise outside, install an air purifier in homes, shut windows and wear a mask to protect themselves when outside.