Short-Term Exposure to Air Pollution May Impede Cognition; Aspirin Could Help
Exposure to air pollution, even over the course of just a few weeks, can impede mental performance, according to a new study led by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. However, these adverse effects were lessened in people taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin. The study is among the first to explore short-term air pollution exposures and the use of NSAIDs to mitigate their effects. The results are published in the journal Nature Aging.
Examples of events that would increase someone’s exposure to air pollution over the short term could include forest fires, smog, second-hand cigarette smoke, charcoal grills, and gridlock traffic.
The researchers examined the relationship between exposures to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon, a component of particulate matter, and cognitive performance in 954 older white males from the Greater Boston Area enrolled in the Normative Aging Study. They also explored whether taking NSAIDs could modify their relationships. Cognitive performance was assessed using the Global Cognitive Function and Mini-Mental State Examination scales. Air pollution levels were obtained from a site in Boston.
Elevated average PM2.5 exposure over 28 days was associated with declines in scores on both scales. Men who took NSAIDs experienced fewer adverse short-term impacts of air pollution exposures on cognitive health than non-users, though there were no direct associations between recent NSAID use and cognitive performance. The researchers postulate that NSAIDs, especially aspirin, may moderate neuroinflammation or changes in blood flow to the brain triggered by inhaling pollution.
“Despite regulations on emissions, short-term spikes in air pollution remain frequent and have the potential to impair health, including at levels below that usually considered hazardous,” says senior author Andrea Baccarelli, chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “Taking aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs appears to mitigate these effects, although policy changes to further restrict air pollution are still warranted.”