The adverse effects of environmental pollution on our physical health, are fairly well known, yet even though there is a strong link between our physical and mental well-being, to date, very little has been researched on what pollution actually does to our psychological health. But now, an innovative new study entitled “Association of Childhood Exposure to Nitrogen Dioxide and Polygenic Risk Score for Schizophrenia With the Risk of Developing Schizophrenia,” has been undertaken by iPSYCH, the Danish psychiatry project. It was published in the scientific journal, JAMA Network Open, indicates that: “children who grow up in areas with heavy air pollution, run a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.”
Schizophrenia can be described as a mental health issue which involves episodes of psychosis enveloping disordered thinking, delusions (false beliefs), and hearing non-existent voices. Further, symptoms may incorporate a lack of motivation, decreased emotional expression, and withdrawal.
The Low Down
The research, which comprises air pollution data from the Department of Environmental Science, and genetic data from iPSYCH, shows that: “the higher the level of air pollution, the higher the risk of schizophrenia. For each 10 μg/m3 (concentration of air pollution per cubic metre) increase in the daily average, the risk of schizophrenia increases by approximately twenty per cent.” Indeed, when compared to youngsters who are exposed to under 10 μg/m3 per day, those receiving 25 μg/m3 per day, stand a 60% higher average risk of developing schizophrenia.
This is a very high, disturbing percentage, considering that: “the lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia is approximately 2%, which equates to two out of a hundred people developing schizophrenia during their life.” Individuals who are subject to the lowest degree of air pollution, have a lifetime risk of around 2%; whereas the lifetime risk for people exposed to the greatest level of air pollution, is approximately 3%.
Henriette Thisted Horsdal, the senior researcher of this pioneering study, which combines genetics and air pollution in relation to the risk of acquiring schizophrenia, remarked: “The risk of developing schizophrenia is also higher if you have a higher genetic liability for the disease. Our data shows that these associations are independent of each other. The association between air pollution and schizophrenia cannot be explained by a higher genetic liability in people who grow up in areas with high levels of air pollution.”
More Study Details
This research project comprised a total of 23,355 individuals, of which 3,531 developed schizophrenia. And while it can be said that the results exhibit an elevated risk of schizophrenia if the degree of air pollution during childhood goes up, the scientists are not yet certain of the cause behind the association. hey simply state that far more research is needed, as after all, this project was just the beginning.
The study is a register-based study which includes partners Nordic Welfare, BERTHA and iPSYCH.
It received funding from The Lundbeck Foundation. Hopefully, this research will inspire other universities from around the world to follow suit. Particularly those in high polluting nations.