Pollution woes: Research has revealed a link between pollution and psychiatric disorders

Pollutants in the air, water and food may be affecting your mental health, argues a study published in the latest issue of PLOS Biology.

Myupchar September 04, 2019 14:50:26 IST
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Pollution woes: Research has revealed a link between pollution and psychiatric disorders
  • Researchers explained that pollutants in the air, water and even in food get into the body and generate inflammation or swelling in the nerve tissues

  • There’s more evidence for the coexistence of air pollution and neuropsychiatric disorders in cities than between any single genetic factor and mental health conditions in individuals

  • They found a denser concentration of pollutants as well as mental health conditions in urban areas compared with rural settlements

Pollutants in the air, water and food may be affecting your mental health, argues a study published in the latest issue of PLOS Biology, a peer-reviewed journal.

The multidisciplinary study looked at the prevalence of bipolar disorder, major depression, personality disorder and schizophrenia among 151 million Americans and 1.4 million Danish residents. Alongside, the researchers mapped pollution levels in multiple US and Denmark cities as recorded by the local environmental agencies.

What the researchers found was astonishing: there’s more evidence for the coexistence of air pollution and neuropsychiatric disorders in cities than between any single genetic factor and mental health conditions in individuals.

Pollution woes Research has revealed a link between pollution and psychiatric disorders

Representational image. Reuters

What happens

For the study, Andrey Rzhetsky et al. looked at environmental pollution in the U.S. and Denmark. They found a denser concentration of pollutants as well as mental health conditions in urban areas compared with rural settlements.

The researchers explained that pollutants in the air, water and even in food get into the body and generate inflammation or swelling in the nerve tissues. This damage can lead to brain dysfunction and several psychiatric disorders.

“The strongest predictor for bipolar disorder diagnosis, after a population’s ethnicity composition, was air quality (defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] Environmental Quality Index [EQI]),” the researchers wrote. “The worst air quality was associated with an approximately 27% increase...in the apparent rate of bipolar disorder... The estimated rate of bipolar disorder was 16.4% higher...in the most densely populated counties. For major depression, a slight increase of 6% in the diagnosis rate...was observed only among the worst air quality regions.”

India data

This should be especially concerning for us in India. Seven of the top 10 polluted cities in the world are here, according to data from IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace. Four of these — Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Noida — are on the outskirts of Delhi.

Even outside these cities, pollution levels and their effects on health are snowballing. In June this year, the Hindu Business Line reported that average life expectancy in India has decreased by 2.6 years due to pollution.

According to the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, the latest such government document of neuropsychiatric disorders in India, “nearly 11% of Indians above 18 years are suffering from mental disorders and most of them do not receive care for a variety of reasons”.

In this context, the PLOS Biology report by Andrey Rzhetsky et. al, should add urgency to how we deal with pollution as well as neurological disorders in this country.

Things to do

When we talk about pollution, the first thing we think about is our physical health. What the massive study with over 150 million people across two distinct geographical locations has done is, it has shone the spotlight on the effect of pollution on mental health.

Short of uprooting your family and shifting base to a pastoral — lower-pollution setting — here’s how you can get maximum protection from environmental pollutants:

  • Air pollution: The US Lung Foundation has some simple ideas to help you to minimise the risk of lung as well as neurological diseases:
    a) If the air quality is poor, don’t go outdoors for a workout
    b) While on the road, avoid routes that have significantly more traffic
    c) Cover your nose and mouth when you’re outdoors
  • Water pollution: Our body is 70% water. Here’s what you can do to avoid diseases due to water pollution:
    a) The most common and simple way is to install a good quality water filter at home. Get it checked and serviced frequently
    b) Use filtered water for cooking and cleaning vegetables, too

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. To know more on this topic, please visit https://www.myupchar.com/en/disease/mental-illness

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