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TikTok: There Is a Chemical Assault on Your Brain

The powerful link between pollution and Alzheimer's disease

By Ben Rein

“Bad news: Air pollution might literally cause Alzheimer's disease … I know this probably sounds fake, but I’m a neuroscientist. Let me show you."

@dr.brein A recent study [Cho et al., 2023] links air pollution (particulate matter) to brain degeneration resembling Alzheimer’s disease… and it’s not the only study to do so. A good reminder to take care of our planet, and take care of ourselves. ________ This video was supported by the Pulitzer Center through the Truth Decay Grant Initiative, in collaboration with OpenMind Magazine. To read more about this topic, check out the accompanying article on OpenMind’s website, found in my bio 🔗. #PulitzerCenter #scicomm #neuroscience #news #pollution #alzheimers #particulatematter #science #scientist #research ♬ original sound - Dr. Ben Rein

“Bad news: Air pollution might literally cause Alzheimer's disease … I know this probably sounds fake, but I’m a neuroscientist. Let me show you."

Earlier this year, a paper came out where they did brain scans on 640 people across Korea. Then they mapped everyone’s brain to their home address and compared them based on the level of air pollution where they live.

The people who were exposed to more pollution not only did worse on cognitive tests, but also, the outer layer of their brain, the cortex, was thinner. Generally, this means that brain cells are dying.

We see the same thing in Alzheimer’s, which you can see here, the outer layer looks sort of deflated because it’s thinner.

Now you might be thinking: correlation does not equal causation, and you’re right to think that. But, there is a lot more evidence. A meta-analysis including over 2.4 million people found that long-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of dementia.

And, studies in mice have shown that air pollution can trigger brain inflammation and enhance the buildup of plaques.

The way we treat our planet affects us all, and it’s concerning at least for me to imagine a future where we’re basically all guaranteed to get dementia because the planet is so polluted. It’s something we should be taking seriously. So, in the meantime, it’s a good reason to avoid highly polluted areas. We can make ourselves more resilient through diet, exercise and stress management. We can also protect ourselves by making a cleaner external environment.

I don’t mean to scare you, just sharing the current neuroscience that you might not have heard about, so thank you for your time, and please follow for more.

December 23, 2023

Ben Rein

PhD, is a Stanford-trained neuroscientist who worked in Robert Malenka’s lab. He currently serves as the Chief Science Officer of the Mind Science Foundation.

Editor’s Note

OpenMind is thrilled to be partnering with neuroscientist and science communicator Ben Rein on a series of TikToks as part of our six-part "Misinformation in Mind" project. In this video, Rein looks at the unnerving connection between air pollution and Alzheimer's disease. (You can also view this video on Ben Rein's Instagram.)

The TikTok accompanies "Polluted Minds," a related essay on toxins, brain health and research into "exposomics" (the effects of environmental stressors) by journalist Sherry Baker. The article covers the complex science showing how and why air pollution creates so much disorder and disease, from depression to Parkinson's to drops in IQ, but not equally in everyone. Baker also covers new strategies for protecting our vulnerable brains.

Our misinformation series includes five other essays, along with related podcasts and videos on topics ranging from the myths of trans science to the elusive nature of expertise. It's all part of OpenMind's "Misinformation in Mind" project, supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center's Truth Decay initiative.

Corey S. Powell and Pamela Weintraub, co-editors, OpenMind

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