Bengaluru: Rise in air pollution can impact cognitive abilities


By Kapil Kajal
With the rise in air pollution, the cognitive development of an individual is affected, say experts.

Researchers from China’s Peking University and USA’s Yale University established a link between air pollution and people’s cognitive performance where exposure to air pollution lowers the ability to attain knowledge and affects productivity. 

As people age, the negative effect of air pollution on cognitive performance becomes more pronounced, especially for men, the study noted. 

At a recent press conference, Dr H Paramesh, a professor with the Indian Institute of Science, highlighted that particulate matter affects the hormone secretion and damages the ability to make sensible decisions.

According to the World Health Organization, exposure to air pollution can affect the brain growth of the foetus. It stated that the exposure to environmental contaminants during pregnancy might cause irreversible damage to the nervous system and other systems, affecting the behavioural and cognitive patterns and motor skills.

Dr Paramesh informed that air pollution increases the oxidative stress (causing cell and tissue damage) on the organs, decreasing cognitive function. He added that automobile emissions can impact the cognitive abilities of an infant. 

A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) listed out the risks associated with exposure to air pollution and its impact on cognitive function. Once the particulate matter present in the air reaches the lungs, it gets mixed with the bloodstream. Recent evidence has suggested that fine particulate matter can directly infiltrate to the brain through the nose, and potentially penetrate the central nervous system. Then, it increases the oxidative stress and attacks the site of infection and the lungs. 

Fig. 1
(Source- NCBI)

The US-China study also suggested that elderly people are more likely to get Alzheimers and other forms of dementia owing to the decline in cognitive function.

Dr Somashekar AR, a pulmonologist who has his own practice, said the heart, lungs and brain are interconnected and once particulate matter (often as small as one millimetre in diametre) enters the blood vessels from lungs, it reaches the brain as well through the bloodstream. These particles reach the brain and accumulate, producing oxidative stress which reduces cognitive abilities and can even cause Alzheimer’s, he added. 

Another NCBI study says high exposure to nitrogen dioxide, non-methane hydrocarbons and particulate matter could affect the motor skills. Prenatal exposure to carbon and particulate matter impacts the non-verbal and visual development of a foetus. 

In Bengaluru, industrial areas like Bidadi, Rajaji Nagar, Peenya, Nelamangla and Whitefield have a high concentration of heavy metals in the air. Dr Shashidhara Gangaiah, a paediatrician who has his own practice, stated that exposure to heavy metals like lead, zinc, mercury, arsenic and chromium could affect the cognitive abilities and is heavily responsible for the decline in cognitive performance.


(Author is Mumbai – based freelance writer and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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