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Air pollution chemical found in brains of Alzheimer’s patients

September 6, 2016

A toxic chemical has been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reveals.

Magnetite, a magnetic form of iron oxide, is most commonly found in the polluted air of large cities. However, researchers at Lancaster University have also found the chemical within the brains of people who have died with Alzheimer’s disease, leading them to believe that air pollution could be a contributing factor to the condition.

The researchers discovered the abnormality after analysing the brain tissue of 29 people in Mexico City and eight people in Manchester.

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Magnetite, a form of iron oxide, has previously been seen in amyloid plaques in the brains of people who have died with Alzheimer’s disease. This magnetite is generally thought to come from iron found naturally in the brain and there is no strong evidence to suggest that it causes Alzheimer’s disease or makes it worse.

“This study offers convincing evidence that magnetite from air pollution can get into the brain, but it doesn’t tell us what effect this has on brain health or conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

The researchers, however, warned that there is not yet sufficient evidence to say whether living in cities and polluted areas raised the risk of dementia.

“Further work in this area is important, but until we have more information people should not be unduly worried. There are more practical ways to lower your chances of developing dementia such as regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and avoiding smoking”, said Dr Walton.

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