Short-Term Exposure to Air Pollution May Impede Cognition, Could Be Helped With Aspirin


Even with these data, the adverse effects were lessened in people taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin.

A new study led by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that exposure to air pollution, even over the course of just a few weeks, can impede mental performance.

Even with these data, the adverse effects were lessened in people taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin. Additionally, the study is among the first to explore short-term air pollution exposures and the use of NSAIDs to mitigate their effects, according to the report.

The researchers examined the relationship between exposures to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon, a component of PM, with cognitive performance in 954 older white males from the Greater Boston Area enrolled in the Normative Aging Study. Further, they explored whether taking NSAIDs could modify their relationships. Cognitive performance was assessed using the Global Cognitive Function (GCF) and Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scales, with air pollution levels obtained from a site in Boston.

Elevated average PM2.5 exposure over 28 days was associated with declines in GCF and MMSE scores. Men who took NSAIDs experienced fewer adverse short-term impacts of air pollution exposures on cognitive health than non-users, though there were no direct associations between recent NSAID use and cognitive performance. The researchers concluded that NSAIDs, specifically aspirin, may moderate neuroinflammation or changes in blood flow to the brain triggered by inhaling pollution.

“Despite regulations on emissions, short-term spikes in air pollution remain frequent and have the potential to impair health, including at levels below that usually considered hazardous,” said senior author Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, in a press release. “Taking aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs appears to mitigate these effects, although policy changes to further restrict air pollution are still warranted.”

The link between long-term PM exposure and impaired cognitive performance in the aging population is well-established, with reported effects including reduced brain volume, cognitive decrements, and dementia development. Air pollution has also been associated with poor cognition of children and adults; however, little was known about the effects of short-term exposure to air pollution until now, according to the study authors.

Future studies should investigate the specific effects of chemical components of air pollution on cognitive performance, exposure sources in the environment, and whether cognitive impairments due to short-term air pollution exposures are transient or persistent, according to the researchers. Randomized clinical trials of NSAID use are needed to validate their protective effects.


Short-term exposure to air pollution may impede cognition; aspirin could help. Columbia Nursing. Published May 3, 2021. Accessed May 4, 2021.,Short%2DTerm%20Exposure%20to%20Air%20Pollution%20May%20Impede%20Cognition%3B%20Aspirin,Mailman%20School%20of%20Public%20Health.

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