The study, which appears in PLOS Biology, used data from the United States and Denmark to uncover the possible link between environmental pollution and psychiatric disorders.
The fresh study discovered that there were greater rates of bipolar disorder and depression among those residing in bad air quality regions. He researchers also concluded that Danish people who lived in polluted areas during their first decade of life were more than twice as likely to have personality disorders and schizophrenia.
With mental health in the spotlight, researchers are keen to understand the factors that influence whether or not someone develops a psychiatric illness.
There is a multitude of potential causes, including genetics as well as life experiences, so it is not possible to exclude environmental factors.
In this fresh research, the team looked more carefully at how the brain and the probability of psychiatric disorders are affected by a particular environmental factor — air pollution.
To reach their conclusion, the researchers drew from two large datasets. The pollution information for the U.S. came from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air quality measurements, while for Denmark, the researchers looked at the national pollution register.
The EPA tracks 87 different air quality measurements. Although the Danish pollution register monitors fewer measurements, they have a higher spatial resolution.
The team then looked at healthcare data. For the U.S., they accessed a health insurance database that included claims that more than 151 million individuals made between 2003 and 2013.
For Denmark, they used data for all of the residents who were born in the country between 1979 and 2002 and were living in Denmark on their 10th birthday.
Denmark assigns a unique identification number to each individual that connects national registry data. This information enabled the researchers to estimate air pollution exposure during the first decade of life. However, the researchers were not able to be quite so specific with the U.S. dataset, as they were limited to the county level.
According to the authors, the findings showed that air pollution did have links to various psychiatric disorders. Using Denmark’s more specific records, the researchers were able to pinpoint that the developing brain during a person’s first 10 years of life might be a bit more prone to the effects of air pollution.
The findings are commented on by computer biologist Atif Khan, who is the first author of this research. “Our study shows that living in polluted areas, especially early on in life, is predictive of mental disorders in both the U.S. and Denmark.” Says Atif Khan.
Writer: Sakshi Gupta