Link between environmental pollutants and dementia
Dementia is a syndrome of cognitive and functional decline that affects a person’s thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday tasks. It is more common in older people but can also occur in younger people.
Reducing dementia risk is a major and growing public health concern. While certain modifiable risk factors have been identified such as diabetes, midlife hypertension and obesity, smoking, depression and cognitive inactivity, a significant proportion of occurrences are unexplained.
A systematic review was published in BMC Geriatrics discussing evidence that indicates environmental risk factors may explain some of this risk. Risk factors that were considered include air quality, toxic heavy metals and occupational-related exposures.
In summary, researchers found moderate evidence for air pollution exposures being related to dementia risk, particularly nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and ozone. There was little evidence that toxic heavy metals, or rather most metals, influence dementia risk, apart from aluminium. Of the occupational exposures, there was little strong evidence, but the evidence suggests that exposure to some pesticides and, possibly, metals may affect dementia risk. Interestingly, there was strong evidence for vitamin D deficiency being associated with raised dementia risk.
Published observational studies support the conclusion that age-related decreased amounts of vitamin D or inefficient utilisation, could alter certain CNS processes, thus leading to cognitive decline and dementia.
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