“Early life stress is common in youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who often live in areas with greater exposure to air pollution”
News just in: Scientists at Columbia Psychiatry and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, have just published ground-breaking research in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. This shows that children who suffer elevated prenatal exposure to air pollution and stress in their early years, end up with higher than normal attention span and thought issues.
These days, air pollution is becoming more and more widespread, regardless of the drive for green incentives. Most people are aware about its serious effects on physical health, but until now, its grave consequences on mental health have been kept out of the spotlight.
A Professional Perspective
Columbia Psychiatry’s assistant professor of clinical neurobiology in psychiatry, first author David Pagliaccio, PhD, notes: “Prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAH], a neurotoxicant common in air pollution, seems to magnify or sustain the effects of early life social and economic stress on mental health in children.”
Further, the study’s senior author, Columbia Psychiatry’s assistant professor of medical psychology in psychiatry, Amy Margolis, PhD, adds: “Air pollutants are common in our environment, particularly in cities, and given socio-economic inequities and environmental injustice, children growing up in disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to experience both life stress and exposure to neurotoxic chemicals.”
The Need For Environmental Health Justice
In addition, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health’s associate professor of environmental health science, Julie Herbstman, PhD, who is also director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, remarked: “These exposures have a combined effect on poor mental health outcomes and point to the importance of public health programs that try to lessen exposure to these critical risk factors, to improve not only physical, but psychological health.”
A Message From the Researchers
The study’s scientists note that: “PAH and early life stress may serve as a “double hit” on shared biological pathways connected to attention and thought problems.” Stress, which in this high tech era, is soaring to heights never experienced before, can generate a whole host of unwelcome effects. These include changes in: brain function and structure; inflammation, cortisol, and epigenetic (non-genetic) expression. “The mechanism underlying the effects of PAH is still being interrogated; however, alterations in brain structure and function represent possible shared mechanistic pathways.”
The compounded impact of early life stress and air pollution was evident across several measures of ADHD/attention and thought problems for children who were 11 years old. The thought issues comprised obsessive behaviors, obsessive thoughts; and thoughts or behaviors which people find odd. Moreover, these effects were associated to “PAH-DNA adducts—a dose-sensitive marker of air pollution exposure.”
The Way Forward
Clearly this is just the beginning of such studies, and more research has to be done. However, there is no doubt whatsoever about the clear and present danger of pollution, and in an ideal world, no families should live in the vicinity of heavy industrial pollution. This can only come about by political pressure, isn’t it time this was done?