The air pollution is a complex mixture of various pollutants including health effects observed following exposure of a few hours to a few days (short term) are eye or respiratory tract irritations, asthma attacks, or even exacerbations of cardiovascular and respiratory disorders which may lead to hospitalization. A new study led by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and published in the scientific journal Nature Aging reveals that an exposure to atmospheric pollution, even over the course of just a few weeks, can also affect cognition (mental performance).
However, these side effects have been reduced in people taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin. “The study is among the first to explore short-term exposures to air pollution and the use of NSAIDs to mitigate their effects,” notes the scientific team. They point out that events that may increase exposure to pollution in the short term include, for example, forest fires, second-hand cigarette smoke, charcoal barbecues and traffic jams. Two types of air pollutants have been taken into account: fine particles PM 2.5 and black carbon.
An effect on inflammation in the brain
The researchers examined the relationship between exposure to these pollutants and cognitive performance in 954 white men in the city of Boston, using atmospheric data provided by the city. They also examined whether the taking NSAIDs could modify this relationship and evaluated their cognitive performance (memory, concentration, ability to follow instructions …) thanks to two standard scientific notation models. The results showed that a moderate to high exposure to PM2.5 and black carbon in the month before a cognitive test was associated with lower performance scores, and therefore could lead to a lower cognitive function.
But it turns out that the men who took nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reported fewer adverse effects on their short-term cognitive health from exposure to air pollution compared to other participants, although there was no direct association between recent use of NSAIDs and cognitive performance. The researchers hypothesize, to be confirmed, that NSAIDs, in particularaspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) can moderate inflammation in the brain, which can become chronic if air pollution is severe enough, or moderate changes in blood flow to the brain triggered by inhaling pollutants.
Restrict pollution rather than taking drugs
“Despite emission regulations, short-term air pollution peaks remain frequent and can be harmful to health, including at levels lower than those considered dangerous. », Explains the lead author of the study, Prof. Andrea Baccarelli. ” The taking aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs appears to mitigate these effects, although policy changes to further restrict pollution are still warranted. The study recalls that the link between long-term exposure to fine particles and impaired cognitive performance is more and more established, in adults as in children: reduction in brain volume, dementia …
Researchers say more studies are needed to investigate the specific effects of chemicals in pollutants on cognitive performance and whether the cognitive impairments caused by short-term exposure to pollution are transient or persistent. Clinical trials on the use of NSAIDs are also needed to understand the mechanism behind this protective effect. The latter, however, conclude on the fact that taking aspirin as such is not the answer since this is a class of drugs whose side effects are not to be taken lightly and NSAIDs are contraindicated in many people.