Here Is How Air Pollution & Psychosis Were Linked In A New Study


It’s pretty common knowledge that air pollution is bad for your lungs, but a first-of-its-kind study published in JAMA Psychiatry has now found a link between air pollution and psychotic experiences in teens, as reported by The Guardian. According to the study, people living in cities are twice as likely to have psychotic experiences, the researchers said in the study, but there are a lot of factors in cities that could cause these experiences, such as noise, crime, and, of course, air pollution. Since more and more people are living in cities every year, the researchers said in the study that they wanted to figure out what might be causing urban psychosis so preventive treatments can then be developed. The bottom line? young people living with higher levels of air pollution are significantly more likely to have psychotic experiences, according to the first study of the issue.

Researchers from the King’s College in London analysed the experiences of more than 2,000 17 year old participants from England and Wales and discovered that those participants who lived in areas with higher levels of nitrogen oxide had a 70 percent higher chance of experiencing symptoms of psychosis, such as “hearing voices or intense paranoia,” According to The Guardian. The researchers did look at other factors that could potentially cause psychosis, The Guardian says, including tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis use, family income, psychiatric history, and levels of neighbourhood deprivation, which is a lack of socioeconomic resources.

“Nitrogen oxides explained about 60 percent of the association between urban living and psychotic experiences,” Joanne Newbury at King’s College London, who led the research, told The Guardian. Other factors that might contribute to psychotic experiences, says The Guardian, might include “genetic susceptibility and experience of crime.”

Although this is the first study to connect air pollution to psychosis, it’s not the first to connect air pollution to mental health. According to a 2018 study that was published in PLoS One found a link between air pollution and a wide range of mental health disorders. University of Washington researchers also published a 2017 study in the journal Health & Place that found a link between increased air pollution and psychological distress. Both studies controlled for other risk factors, such as other health conditions, socioeconomic status, or family histories.

“Nitrogen oxides are emitted from vehicle exhaust, and the burning of coal, oil, diesel fuel, and natural gas, especially from electric power plants,” says the NIH. “They are also emitted by cigarettes, gas stoves, kerosene heaters, wood burning, and silos that contain silage.” And those nitrogen oxides react with sunlight and other chemicals to form the smog you see in cities and then breathe into your lungs.

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2018 report found that many cities across the United States experienced more days when smog reach unhealthy levels from 2014 to 2016. The number of people exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution also increased to more than 133.9 million, up from 125 million in the 2017 report. The American Lung Association says that’s why it’s so important to stop the effects of climate change.

“Climate change makes it harder to protect human health,” says the American Lung Association. “As climate change continues, cleaning up these pollutants will become ever more challenging.”

The researchers also found a link to small particle pollution, with psychotic experiences 45% more common for those teens exposed to higher levels. However, they said that while this first study provided good evidence, it was important other studies were done to confirm the findings.

“The study makes a valuable contribution to the growing body of evidence that air pollution may affect more than just cardiovascular and respiratory health,” said Stefan Reis, the head of atmospheric chemistry and effects at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. “This new study makes a compelling case to investigate a range of mental health outcomes of air pollution exposure.”

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