Exposure to nitrogen dioxide may increase risk of Alzheimer's, study finds

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Experts say reducing exposure to the chemical may reduce risks associated with the disease

Air pollution continues to pose a threat to consumers’ health worldwide, and a new study conducted by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health explored how nitrogen dioxide is affecting consumers’ health long-term. According to their findings, high exposure to nitrogen dioxide may increase the risk of developing biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. 

“In line with those of other recent studies, our findings indicate that the tiny suspended particles and gases in air pollution, produced primarily by road traffic, may be an environmental risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” said researcher Dr. Marta Crous Bou. 

“[The study] provides evidence that air pollution may have a particular effect on individuals who already have disease biomarkers, in this case, beta-amyloid deposition in the brain, and that exposure may contribute to the advance or progression of the disease.” 

Air pollution may impact long-term brain health

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 160 adults around the age of 60 who were enrolled in the ALFA+ study. Based on their addresses, the researchers evaluated the participants’ exposure to different pollutants. The team used different models to determine how that exposure affected brain health. 

The researchers learned that high levels of exposure to pollutants – specifically nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – were associated with more biomarkers related to Alzheimer’s disease.

While it remains unclear why a link exists between air pollution and long-term cognitive health, the researchers explained that studies continue to identify a relationship between the two. With these findings, they hope future work focuses on the ways that air pollution may lead to disease progression. 

“It is important to emphasize that this is a modifiable risk factor, and one to which a large part of the population is exposed,” said researcher Dr. Silvia Alemany. “Even though the associated risks are small, a reduction in exposure would lead to a decrease in the morbidity associated with this disease. Future studies will allow us to demonstrate whether its effects are related to disease progression.” 

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