Air Pollution Contributes to Dementia. Could Using Air Purifiers Help Prevent It?

by Nils Osmar. Revised July 15, 2023. Medical Disclaimer

Many people in the anti-aging community are hoping to live unusually long lives. Whether we succeed at this or not, living longer would be more desirable if we can avoid diseases of aging such as frailty and dementia.

Poor air quality appears to be a contributing cause of dementia. It’s not the only suspected cause, but is one to be aware of, and is one we can do something about.

Air pollution and dementia

The NIH (National Institutes of Health) recently published an article called “The emerging risk of exposure to air pollution on cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease – Evidence from epidemiological and animal studies“. Here’s a quote from it:

As incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other neurodegenerative diseases rise, there is increasing interest in environmental factors which may contribute to disease onset and progression. Air pollution has been known as a major health hazard for decades.

While its effects on cardiopulmonary morbidity and mortality have been extensively studied, growing evidence has emerged that exposure to polluted air is associated with impaired cognitive functions at all ages and increased risk of AD and other dementias in later life; this association is particularly notable with traffic related pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, nitrous oxide, black carbon, and small diameter airborne solids and liquids known as particulate matter.

The exact mechanisms by which air pollutants mediate neurotoxicity in the central nervous system (CNS) and lead to cognitive decline and AD remain largely unknown. Studies using animal and cell culture models indicate that amyloid-beta processing, anti-oxidant defense, and inflammation are altered following the exposure to constituents of polluted air. In this review, we summarize recent evidence supporting exposure to air pollution as a risk for cognitive decline at all ages and AD at later lifetime.

Additionally, we review the current body of work investigating the molecular mechanisms by which air pollutants mediate damage in the CNS. Understanding of the neurotoxic effects of air pollution and its constituents is still limited, and further studies will be essential to better understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms linking air pollution and cognitive decline.

Related articles:

Sources of pollution

Sources of pollution are ubiquitous in our environments. They include traffic, industry, internal household products (including furniture), and smoke from wildfires.

So what to do?

Filtering our air to remove particles and gases that may be damaging is one obvious possibility.

The good news is that today’s air purifiers are far better than the ones that were available a few years ago.

A genuine HEPA filter will trap microscopic particles of pollution, and a high-quality carbon filter will remove Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde off-gassing from furniture and carpets.

Do houseplants make a difference?

Do houseplants remove significant pollution from the air?

  • According to the 2019 study cited in this article, they do help, but not much.
  • They’re effective in a 2′ x 2′ box, but not in a room large enough to live in. You’d need hundreds of plants in your house to purify the air in a single room. I
  • Your best bet is to buy some high quality air purifiers. Buying two or three inexpensive air purifiers, if they’re well designed, can remove dust, smoke, and harmful chemicals from the air and keep your house air clean and fresh.
  • I have three purifiers working quietly in the background in my (large, open) living room. They were inexpensive ($150 each) and work great. The air is noticeably fresher and cleaner, free of dust and odors, when they’re running. My breathing becomes clearer shortly after turning them on (if I’ve had them off for some reason).
  • have several houseplants, which I love having in my environment; they make me feel connected to the world of nature; but I don’t count on them to keep the air clean. They’re “buddies”, not air purifiers.

The cost of filters

  • Filters aren’t cheap. But when you set up an array of air purifiers, the filters last much longer before they need to be changed, as in, two or three years instead of once a year.

How about you?

Are you taking measures to protect yourself from the effects of air pollution? Are there solutions or products (or product categories) you’d recommend? Feel free to tell us about them in the comments below.

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