Is This the Real Cause of Alzheimer’s?

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Air pollution can lead to memory problemsAlzheimer’s is a challenging disease to manage. It takes untold hours of care from family and friends to support a person with Alzheimer’s. Once a person with the brain-wasting disease is admitted into a long term care facility, the financial costs can be very expensive. And then there’s the cost in terms of quality of life for the patient, which can be very high as well.

Alzheimer’s, at its roots, is a disease triggered by inflammation and oxidative stress. These two processes, more than any other, may be responsible for pushing Alzheimer’s into a full-fledged disease requiring round-the-clock care. Both inflammation and oxidative stress affect the metabolic pathways in the brain.

Of all the forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common form. Unlike other life-threatening diseases, there is no treatment to stop its progression. Memory loss is often the first symptom of Alzheimer’s. But other diminished aspects of mental capacity soon follow: there is a gradual loss of judgement, an inability to organize and carry out tasks and declining language skills. Spreading brain lesions are the cause of all these mental deficits. No drugs have been invented that stop the creation of new lesions. Neurons are lost and brain synapses no longer connect with one another. So how can we stop this train-wreck of a disease?

In a new research book, Alzheimer’s progression is being linked to environmental toxins that enter the brain via the olfactory nerve (the nerve in your nose that allows you to “smell”). According to researchers, pollutants in the air enter the nose and from there travel to the brain.

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These air pollutants come from a number of different sources including coal burning plants, vehicle traffic, and other sources. Studies have proven that people who live in polluted areas are at greater risk for suffering cognitive decline.

One study looked at a group of 399 women who were in their senior years (69 to 78 years old). These women had all lived at the same address for at least 20 years. Research showed that particulate exposure was highest for those who lived near busy highways. The research team then tested the mental function of the women by having them complete neuropsychological tests. The women’s sense of smell was also evaluated by using an odor identification test.

The researchers discovered that there was a dose-dependent response to particulate matter: the more the women were exposed to pollution, the more likely they were to show signs of mental deficiencies. Specifically, during tests aimed at measuring mild cognitive impairment (a sign that Alzheimer’s could be developing), scores were significantly lower in those who lived within 50 meters of a highway or were exposed to traffic density totalling 10,000 cars per day.

The link between airborne pollutants and the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease needs to be explored in more detail. If stricter pollution laws and the widespread use of “green” energies could help lower the number of predicted Alzheimer’s cases estimated to afflict people over the next 20 years, then we should all be helping to achieve this goal. The societal cost of this terrible illness is just too high.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Lockwood, A.H., “The Links Between Burning Coal and Neurological Diseases,” Mother Earth News web site, Oct. 2013;, last accessed Oct. 15, 2013.
Moulton, P.V., et al., “Air pollution, oxidative stress, and Alzheimer’s disease,” J Environ Public Health 2012: 472751.