Research finds air pollution may speed up Parkinson's

Researchers in the US have uncovered a link between long-term exposure to pollution and deterioration in health conditions. This includes Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The study, which has been published in The Lancet Planetary Health, used innovative computational analysis to work with data from over 63 million people in the US. This analysis showed that air pollution levels were linked to an increased risk of people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other dementias being hospitalised for the first time.

The researchers suggest that this increase in hospitalisation is due to such conditions deteriorating. Pollution could negatively affect the health of people with conditions such as Parkinson's.

The results also highlight that the amount of pollution is important, as higher the levels seemed to cause greater negative effects.

An increased risk was present at levels below the current national standards for pollution in the US.

Pollution and Parkinson's

Research has shown that pollution is linked to both cardiovascular and respiratory disease. However, less is known about the effect pollution may have on conditions that affect the brain.

Emerging evidence has shown that air pollution is associated with impaired cognitive function, accelerated cognitive decline, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. Studies like this are needed to confirm these associations and to understand how pollution may be having an effect on our brains.

However, understanding the result from these studies can be challenging as they can be affected by many factors. For example, how long a person may have lived in one area or what other environmental risk factors they may have been exposed to.

Risk factors in Parkinson's

We know that Parkinson's is influenced by many factors, and while each individual factor may only play a small role their combined effect can influence the speed at which the condition progresses.

Understanding the factors that play the biggest role and how they alter the way our cells behave could open the door to new treatments that target the underlying causes of the condition.

Dr Beckie Port, Research Manager at Parkinson's UK said: 

"This research provides the most robust evidence to date that long term exposure to air pollutants may play a role in the deterioration of incurable conditions like Parkinson's. 

"There is increasing evidence that air pollution is linked with both the occurrence and progression of such conditions. This US study highlights that there may be no safe level of exposure and that the greater the exposure, the greater the risk of adverse health effects.

“Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world. Over time, it eats away at a person's quality of life. By advancing our understanding of the role nature and the environment play, alongside numerous other genetic and lifestyle factors, we hope to gain insights that allow us to stop, slow or even prevent devastating conditions like Parkinson's." 

Take part in Parkinson’s research

There are many studies underway across the UK that need people with and without Parkinson’s. From home-based questionnaires, to trialling new treatment approaches, you can make a difference by taking part.