(NaturalHealth365) Air pollution is a global health crisis and being linked to the rise in Alzheimer’s disease. The WHO reports that the most popular form of dementia (Alzheimer’s) contributes to 5.4 percent of all deaths worldwide, and living in areas with a high degree of air pollution is known to increase the odds of heart disease, cancer and stroke.
But, now, a scientific study is giving rise to concern that iron-based particles generated by industrial and automotive pollution could be an environmental risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Abundant amounts of “pernicious” particles surprise researchers
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at Lancaster University in the UK examined brain tissue from the frontal cortexes of 37 people, and discovered an “extraordinary” amount of nanoparticles of magnetite, a magnetic iron compound. The subjects ranged in age from 3 to 92, and had lived in either Lancaster or Mexico.
Previous studies have shown a link between high amounts of brain magnetite and Alzheimer’s disease, and also shown that magnetite increases the toxicity of beta-amyloid plaques – deposits of a protein that interferes with cell signaling, and is characteristic in Alzheimer’s disease. However, researchers stopped short of saying that the toxic particles directly cause Alzheimer’s disease, saying they had not demonstrated a causal link – but they did acknowledge magnetite’s “pernicious” (causing insidious harm) effect on the brain.
Research has shown that living in areas with a high degree of air pollution significantly increases the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The new study could shed light on one of the reasons why this occurs.
Unnatural situation concerns scientists about air pollution
The sheer amount of the particles – estimated at millions per gram of brain tissue – took researchers by surprise. And the number of particles was not the only disturbing element of the study – particle shape was also of concern.
Magnetite particles can form naturally in human brains, but biological magnetite particles are small and crystal-shaped – very different from the large, spherical particles that existed “everywhere” throughout the samples, outnumbering the biological particles at a ratio of 100 to 1.
Professor Barbara Maher, who helmed the study, stated that the distinctive rounded shape of the particles is due to their being formed at high temperatures – taking the form of molten droplets of material from car exhaust, factories and power plant smokestacks. In other words, the particles are combustion byproducts.
Maher called for more study, with further examination of the particles as a “potentially important environmental risk factor” for Alzheimer’s disease. She also pointed to an “urgent” need to reduce particle concentrations in the air.
A study of air obtained from Lancaster roadsides revealed that it contained 200 magnetite particles in every cubic meter.
Toxic magnetite particles cause oxidative damage in the brain
When breathed in, magnetite particles proceed from the nose to olfactory parts of the brain and then on to the hippocampus and frontal cortex – incidentally, two areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Magnetite is a toxic material that disrupts normal cellular function and contributes to the creation of destructive free radicals, which cause oxidative cell damage – another classic feature of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to magnetite, researchers also found metal-bearing particles such as aluminum, copper and platinum. The presence of platinum was especially indicative of a substance not formed naturally in the brain; Maher noted it likely originated from vehicular catalytic converters.
Keep in mind, high levels of heavy metals in the brain are also linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
Antioxidants can offer protection to the brain
Although your body naturally produces internal antioxidants – substances which neutralize dangerous free radicals – these are sometimes insufficient to fight the onslaught of oxidative damage from pollutants and toxins. Increasing dietary sources of antioxidants is essential, especially if you live in an area affected by industrial pollution.
Research shows that antioxidants in the form of supplements don’t have the same benefits as antioxidants in food. Organic fruits and vegetables, packed with natural antioxidants, are your best bet for reducing oxidative stress – and decreasing risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
And intensely-colored fruits and vegetables, rich in antioxidant plant pigments, are the most effective of all. Tomatoes and watermelon are rich in antioxidant lycopene, while yellow, orange and green citrus fruits – such as oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes – contain antioxidant carotenoids, flavonoids, and limonoids. These potent polyphenols have a synergistic effect – meaning they reinforce each other’s powers, acting more effectively together than if they were consumed separately.
Carrots, pumpkin and squash contain an orange pigment known as beta-carotene.
And don’t forget (no pun intended) the green tea, loaded with antioxidant catechins. Black and oolong teas contain catechins as well, but in lesser qualities – as processing destroys antioxidants.
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