The dangerous health effects of air pollution have been known since at least the 1960s, but could it be responsible for making men crazy? New research into the effects of contaminated air on brain development sheds light on a potential cause of neurodevelopmental disorders, and correlates with previous studies which show a greater prevalence of these specific conditions in men.
A research paper from 1967 entitled The Biological Effects of Photochemical Air Pollutants on Man and Animals states “The most commonly experienced and recognized attribute of photochemical smog by man is eye irritation.” Now, 46 years later this attribute is hardly mentioned amidst epidemic rates of lung and heart disease. The paper goes on to discuss the various long and short-term effects of exposure that were studied at the time, including a study that was done on mice which showed an increased susceptibility to pulmonary infection and chronic disease during the latter half of the animal’s life.
In the decades since this paper was published air pollution rates have increased tremendously, correlating with a rise in the associated diseases mentioned above. Could they also be linked with the rising rates of other diseases and disorders? New research has discovered another important health concern which may also be attributable to the rise in air pollution, and it may be making men crazy.
Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta, a professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, came upon the evidence of pollution’s effects on the brain by chance, after having a look at the brains of mice sent to her by some colleagues. The mice had been part of a recent study similar to the one discussed in the 1967 paper, examining the effects of pollution on the lungs. What Cory-Slechta found upon examining the brains was very alarming; there was no region of the brain that was free of inflammation, and there were several indications of brain damage similar to what is found in common mental disorders.
Following this initial discovery Cory-Slechta and her team began a series of rodent studies to analyze the effects of air pollution on the developing brain. The results showed the brains had been damaged in a number of ways. The ventricles were enlarged and the white matter which connects the two hemispheres had either died or never developed. These forms of brain damage are similar to what is found in patients with bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and schizophrenia.
Though the brains were all damaged to varying degrees, Cory-Slechta noted that the damage was most prominent in the male rodents, which correlates with a number of human studies that show both autism and schizophrenia are mainly male-oriented conditions. According to Cory-Slechta, this animal study supports the connection between the rise in air pollution and the rise in these specific mental disorders in men.
In a recent review of the gender differences in schizophrenia in medical literature, it was noted that several studies indicate the is higher in men, and men also showed an earlier onset than women. The review also showed that women have a better chance of remission and lower relapse rates. If air pollution can be shown to be a factor in these diseases which are making men crazy it will provide more evidence to push for policy change. Dr. Cory-Slechta and her team are hopeful that these new findings will lower current regulations and reduce future exposure.
By Mimi Mudd