Pollution exposes your future baby to mental health problems

Pollution exposes your future baby to mental health problems

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    Respiratory conditions, cancers, cardiovascular diseases… Air pollution affects physical health in many ways, but scientists have also been interested for some time in its effects on mental health. This is the subject of a new study which establishes a link between prenatal exposure to air pollution and mental health problems in adolescence. A major problem considering that billions of people today breathe polluted air on a global scale.

    Can air pollution be a source of stress, anxiety, or even depression? This is a question that many researchers around the world are trying to answer. A study published last April by the European Society of Cardiology reported an increased risk of episodes of stress and depression among those most exposed; which would by extension increase the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases. “Our results reveal a double threat linked to air pollution: not only does it deteriorate the Mental Healthbut it also significantly increases the risk of cardiac death associated with poor mental health“, alarmed Dr Shady Abohashem, one of the authors of this work.

    While the latest report from Swiss company IQAir found that only seven cities and countries met World Health Organization (WHO) standards for air quality, this new research by researchers from the University of Bristol, in the United Kingdom, are cause for concern. Babies exposed to air pollution while still in the womb are more likely to develop mental health problems in adolescence. “It is important to emphasize that these results, in themselves, do not prove a causal association. However, other recent studies have shown that low-emission zones appear to have a positive impact on mental health“, explains Dr Joanne Newbury, lead author of this work, in a press release.

    The objective of this research was to assess the long-term impact of exposure to noise and air pollution during three key periods (pregnancy, early childhood, adolescence) on three mental health disorders (psychotic experiences , depression and anxiety). To do this, they analyzed data from 9,065 participants from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a study in which more than 14,000 pregnant women were included in the early 1990s. If exposure to noise pollution during Childhood and adolescence has been linked to symptoms of anxiety, while air pollution has been associated with an increased risk of psychotic experiences and depression.

    Hallucinations, paranoia and depression

    Published in JAMA Network Open, this work reveals in detail that each increase of 0.72 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particles during pregnancy and childhood was linked to an increase of 11% and 9%, respectively, in the risk of psychotic experiences at the adolescence or early adulthood. Note that researchers also report an increased risk of depression (+10%) for such exposure during pregnancy. If this is an observational study, it is important to specify that all of these associations were still significant after taking into account other risk factors, including family psychiatric history.

    Childhood, adolescence and early adulthood are critical periods for the development of psychiatric disorders: worldwide, almost two thirds of affected people feel unwell before the age of 25. Our findings add to a growing body of evidence – from different populations and locations and using different study designs – suggesting a negative impact of air pollution (and potentially noise pollution) on health. mental“, explains Dr. Joanne Newbury.

    And to conclude: “This is a major concern as air pollution is now a common exposure, and the proportion of mental health problems is increasing globally. As pollution is also an avoidable exposure, interventions aimed at [la] reduction, such as low emission zones, could potentially improve mental health. Interventions targeted at vulnerable groups, including pregnant women and children, could also reduce exposure more quickly“.

    According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), almost the entire world population (99%) was in places where air pollution thresholds were not met in 2019. According to the latest IQAir report, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, and Burkina Faso were the five most polluted countries in 2023, with an annual level of exposure to fine particles up to 15 times higher than the WHO annual recommendation set at 5 µg/ m3 or less. Note that the annual average in Paris is estimated in this report at 10.3 µg/m3, twice as high as the threshold recommended by the WHO.