Long-term exposure to even comparatively low levels of air pollution could cause depression and anxiety, according to a study exploring links between air quality and poor mental health.

By tracking the incidence of depression and anxiety in almost 500,000 UK adults for 11 years, researchers found that those living in areas with higher pollution were more likely to experience episodes, even when air quality was within the official limits.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, the researchers, from Oxford and Beijing Universities and Imperial College London, said their findings suggested a need for stricter standards or regulations for air pollution control.

The findings come as ministers face criticism for passing new legally binding air quality guidelines that allow for more than twice the levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) than equivalent targets set by the world. Health Organization.

The peers passed legislation this week allowing a maximum annual mean concentration of 12 micrograms per cubic meter by 2028. The WHO completed a revision of its 2005 reference air quality levels in September 2021, halving its limit. from PM2.5 to five micrograms.

Air pollution has long been implicated in a number of respiratory disorders, but, the researchers noted, a growing body of evidence is establishing a link to mental health disorders. However, until now, the only available studies on depression risk were carried out in regions with air pollution concentrations exceeding UK air quality limits.

The researchers drew on data from 389,185 UK Biobank participants, modeling and scoring air pollution, including PM2.5 and PM10, nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide for the areas in which they lived. They found 13,131 cases of depression and 15,835 cases of anxiety identified among their sample within a follow-up period of about 11 years.

As air pollution increased, the researchers found, so did cases of depression and anxiety. However, the exposure-response curves were not linear, with steeper slopes at lower levels and stable trends at higher exposures, suggesting that long-term exposure to low levels of contamination was just as likely to lead to diagnoses than exposure at higher levels.

The researchers said they hoped policymakers would take their findings into account. “Considering that the air quality standards of many countries are still well above the latest World Health Organization 2021 global air quality guidelines, more stringent standards or regulations should be implemented for the control of air pollution. air pollution into future policymaking,” they wrote.

Anna Hansell, professor of environmental epidemiology at the University of Leicester, who was not involved in the research, said the study was yet more evidence to support a reduction in legal air pollution limits.

“This study provides further evidence about the potential impacts of air pollution on the brain,” he said. “The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution reported in 2022 on evidence for associations between air pollution and cognitive decline and dementia. The report concluded that the link was likely causal.

“However, there are few studies to date on air pollution and mental health. This new well-conducted study found associations between air pollution and anxiety and depression in the UK, which experiences less air pollution than many countries in the world.”

By sbavh

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