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Air Pollution Is Putting Tiny Particles in Your Brain, and They're Toxic

It's not like without this piece of news we would have thought air pollution to be good - or at least not harmful -, but it does add a new dimension to the extent of damage it can cause to our bodies.
Pollution in Beijing 1 photo
Previously, it was believed that nocive particles found in the air we breathe were mainly dangerous to our lungs, and it made sense. If your breathers could talk, they'd probably have something pretty nasty to tell you each time you got in the car, while the more educated would stick to "ride a bike, you lazy marshmallow."

Well, new research published these past days in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences claims - and can prove - that millions of toxic particles can also be found in our brains. The team analyzed brain tissue from 37 people of all ages (between three and 92) living in two of the most polluted metropolis of this world: London and Mexico City.

The scary results showed a very high concentration of magnetite that, researchers said, went as high as a million particles per one gram of tissue. Magnetite is an iron nanoparticle that has been indirectly linked in the past with Alzheimer's, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases.

The tissue studied also contained biologically-produced magnetite crystals, but the researchers have no doubt that the perfectly spherical iron particles come from the smog the patients had inhaled. And the most worrying fact is that this latter type of particles - no larger than a virus - outnumbered the former by almost 100 to one.

The study hasn't yet established just how dangerous these iron particles are to the human brain, but study co-author David Alsop isn't too optimistical. In contact with organic tissues, magnetite produces reactive oxygen species, which damage the brain. “There’s already evidence for this specific type of damage in Alzheimer’s, possibly very early in the course of the disease,” Mr. Alsop told Gizmodo.

The real trouble with magnetite is that it's so small, it's virtually impossible to filter. It can bypass any human-made barrier and it can easily fool our noses, so everybody is exposed. The minuscule particles are released by any process that involves burning fossil fuel as it most likely contains tiny amounts of iron as an impurity.

Since burning fuel seems to be one of humanity's favorite pastimes, we're probably swimming in a sea of magnetite. However, we didn't really need another reason to start working on reducing the level of air pollution, did we? I mean, the list of diseases it causes, not to mention global warming and all that, should be enough. But we tend to love our brains more than anything else, so maybe this new finding will bring the impetus that was missing until now.

 

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