New study links air pollution to Bipolar Disorder

According to research conducted at the University of Chicago, people who live in a polluted city are more vulnerable to mental diseases, including Bipolar Disorder and Depression. The researchers studied the health records of more than 152 million people in the US and 1.4 million people in Denmark born between 1979 and 2002. The study showed a significant increase in the prevalence of neuropsychiatric disorders among people who are exposed to environmental pollution. A 65% increase in major depression and a 27% increase in bipolar disorder and had been recorded for countries with the worst air quality. The study was published in PLOS Biology Journal on August 20, 2019.

“Our studies in the US and Denmark show that living in polluted areas, especially early in life, is predictive of mental disorders,” said computational biologist Atif Khan.

The research also found a strong link between polluted soil and the increased risk of personality disorder. The researchers later examined the prevalence of neuropsychiatric disorders in Danish adults who had lived in areas with poor air quality up to their tenth birthdays. A 29% increase in bipolar disorder, a 50% increase in severe depression and a 162% increase in personality disorders were recorded for people who live in an area with poor quality air. Childhood exposure to poor air quality has been linked to almost two-times increase (almost 148%) in schizophrenia in Danish people.

Air pollutants can have an adverse impact on our brain and affect our emotional, physical, and mental health. Earlier, mental health conditions like Bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and psychosis were not associated with exposure to poor air quality. However, several studies conducted in 2019 provide evidence of the link between mental health issues and air pollution. Research also shows a link between lower IQ, Parkinson’s diseases, and Alzheimer’s and air pollution.


Traffic noise is a prominent factor that can be linked to both air pollution and mental health. It can increase stress and disrupt sleep.


Some of the smallest particles of air pollution or particulate matter are known as PM2.5, are 70 times smaller than the width of human hair. These particles, when inhaled, pass through the lining of the lungs into our bloodstream and finally to our brain. These tiny particles of air pollution are responsible for causing inflammation which then leads to severe mental health conditions and even epigenetic changes which affect the activity of DNA and often leading to altered level of brain chemicals.


The evidence is not very strong due to the lack of data on what an individual’s real exposure to air pollution has been. Some research studied city-wide air quality measurements rather than specific addresses.

“There’s quite a few known triggers (for mental illness), but pollution is a new direction,” study leader Andrey Rzhetsky, of the University of Chicago, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that air pollution kills 7 million people each year, which is equivalent to 13 deaths every minute. The number of deaths is more than the number of people killed by malaria, HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, and murder combined together.


According to research published by US nonprofit, the Health Effects Institute, earlier this year, air pollution can also shorten the life expectancy of children born today by an average of 20 months.


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