Reducing air pollution can support healthy brain development

A new study finds that having a portable air purifier at home can reduce the negative effects of air pollution on brain development in children.

Researchers from Simon Fraser University collaborated with American and Mongolian scientists to study the benefits of using air filters to reduce exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, and to assess the impact on children’s intelligence.

The researchers note that their randomized controlled trial is the first of its kind to document the effects of air pollution reduction on cognition in children.

In early 2014, the team recruited 540 pregnant women in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to participate in the Ulaanbaatar Gestation and Air Pollution Research (UGAAR) study. Ulaanbaatar has some of the worst air quality in the world, exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

The women were less than 18 weeks into their pregnancy and non-smokers who had not previously used air-filtering equipment in their homes. They were randomly assigned to the control or intervention group. The intervention group was given one or two HEPA filtered air purifiers and encouraged to run the air purifiers continuously throughout their pregnancy. After the birth of the child, the air purifiers were removed from the house.

The researchers later measured the children’s complete intelligence quotient (FSIQ) at age four using the Weschler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence.

They found that the children of mothers who had used the air purifiers had an average FSIQ that was 2.8 points higher than the group who did not use the air purifier during pregnancy.

“These results, combined with evidence from previous studies, strongly imply that air pollution poses a threat to brain development,” said Ryan Allen, a professor of environmental health in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “But the good news is that reducing exposure had clear benefits.”

Children in the intervention group also had significantly higher mean index scores for verbal comprehension, which is consistent with results from previous observational studies. The research suggests that a child’s verbal skills may be particularly sensitive to exposure to air pollution.

More than 90 percent of the world’s population breathes air with particulate matter concentrations above WHO guidelines. The researchers suggest that the population-level impact of air pollution on brain development could be substantial, even if the individual-level effects are modest.

Their research results indicate that reducing exposure to air pollution during pregnancy could improve the cognitive development of children around the world.

“Air pollution is everywhere and it prevents children from reaching their full potential,” Allen added. “Air purifiers can provide some protection, but ultimately the only way to protect all children is to reduce emissions.”

Story source:

Materials supplied by Simon Fraser University† Originally written by Melissa Shaw. Note: Content is editable for style and length.

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