Research finds link between Mexico City air pollution and early signs of Alzheimer's in children

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Mexico City's Smog-Capture Building


By Mark Leberfinger for AccuWeather

Children in Mexico City have developed some of the early markers for Alzheimer's in the brain's chemistry and structure due to the city's air pollution, American and Mexican researchers said.

Pollution has contributed to changes in the hippocampus where learning and memory processing take place, said Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas of the University of Montana, Missoula.

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Mexico City has had a long-standing air pollution issue. Millions of children are involuntarily exposed to harmful concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) every day since conception, Calderón-Garcidueñas said.

See photos of the pollution that plagues Mexico City:

16 PHOTOS
Pollution in Mexico City
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Research finds link between Mexico City air pollution and early signs of Alzheimer's in children
Picture of buildings of the concrete jungle of Mexico City seen through smog on February 14, 2014 from the Latin American Tower.(Photo credit: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view of the smog covering the Mexico City skyline on March 30, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view of the smog covering the Mexico City skyline on March 30, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
View of heavy traffic in Reforma avenue, one of the main streets of Mexico City, on February 12, 2008. The mayor's office of the Mexican capital is trying to reduce the effects of the high pollution caused by cars by extending the current plan -which bans 20% of the cars (depending on the numberplate for each day) to drive in labour days- to Saturdays. AFP PHOTO/Omar Torres (Photo credit should read OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexico City. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)
Pollution blankets Mexico city against a backdrop of the Ixtcihuatl volcano 18 January 2002. In Mexico City more than 60 000 people died each year from complications related to the pollution, according to environmentalist groups. (Photo credit should read JORGE UZON/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO - JUNE 06: Aerial view of the city's streets and buildings. Mexico City, Federal District, Mexico. (Photo by Stephanie Maze/National Geographic/Getty Images)
MEXICO - MARCH 01: Sunlight tries to break through the smog on a busy street, Mexico City, Mexico (Photo by Stephanie Maze/National Geographic/Getty Images)
General view early morning 7 February, 2007 of Mexico City already covered by a layer of smog. Mexico City is considered as one of the most polluted cities in the world. AFP PHOTO/Ronaldo SCHEMITD (Photo credit should read Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexico City, MEXICO: Demonstrators from San Luis Potosi stand protest in front of the Canadian embassy 28 February 2007 in Mexico City against Canadian company Metallica Resources Inc. The company extracts gold and silver from the San Pedro mountain in San Luis Potosi, 400 km from Mexico City, polluting the water in the region, protesters said. AFP PHOTO/Luis ACOSTA (Photo credit should read LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexico City, Mexico-October 29,2003- One of the aguas negras in Mexico City, a sewage ditch. Juan Manuel Nava Gonzalez, age 20 (left) Gilberto Cano Medina, age 28 (right)(DENVER POST PHOTO BY LYN ALWEIS) (Photo By Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Buildings stand in the Polanco neighborhood as seen in this aerial photograph taken from a helicopter in the Condor Group, a fleet of helicopters operated by the Federal District Secretariat of Public Security, in Mexico City, Mexico, on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The group provides air support to the population of Mexico City in emergencies, as well as surveillance and traffic monitoring. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Traffic moves down a street in this aerial photo taken during a Red Wings Co. TuriSky helicopter tour of Mexico City, Mexico, on Friday, May 22, 2015. Red Wings Co. is a boutique airline offering executive jet flights and helicopter tours of Mexico City through its TuriSky service, a joint alliance with the ADO Group. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - AUGUST 13: Heavy traffic fills streets at the end of a workday August 13, 2010 in Mexico City, Mexico. Traffic jams are a big problem in the city. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY - AUGUST 30: Workers from the electrical sector block traffic during a protest against the privatization of the electrical industry 30 August 2002 Mexico City. An estimated 10,000 workers took part in the demonstration. (Photo by Alfredo ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
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The seemingly healthy children who were studied have deficiencies in attention and short-term memory, and below-average scores in Verbal and Full Scale IQ tests compared to children exposed to low air pollution, according to the research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinsonism.

"This is not one isolated change, but it is a cluster of findings pointing in the same direction," Calderón-Garcidueñas said.

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While pollution is comprised of gases, such as ozone, particulate matter (PM 2.5) and organic compounds, weather also plays a role in its formation, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls said.

"Under strong areas of high pressure, air masses can become stagnant with no flow thus trapping pollution in valleys or under inversions," Nicholls said. "An inversion is a deviation in the lower atmosphere where temperatures rise with height from the surface to a few thousand feet. Temperatures normally cool with height; this is fairly common in the mid-latitudes."

Significant exposures to air pollutants also increase the Alzheimer's risk for people over 65 years old, according to separate research released earlier this year, Calderón-Garcidueñas said.

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"The most important issue is the possibility of neuroprotection," she said. "The public should also know there is no money at all for air-pollution Alzheimer's disease-associated research at the most vulnerable stage of life: when the brain is in development."

"Since the most important sources of PM 2.5 are combustion sources [gasoline, oil, diesel, etc.], you wonder why this type of information is not available to the public, and of course why there is no interest in protecting the exposed population. We have millions of children living in polluted cities in the USA and it seems nobody cares," she added.

The latest findings build on more than a decade of research conducted by Calderón-Garcidueñas on the air pollution connections. Previously, Alzheimer-like precursors were found in dogs from Mexico City.

RELATED GALLERY: Check out photos of China's problem with pollution:

11 PHOTOS
Pollution in China
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Research finds link between Mexico City air pollution and early signs of Alzheimer's in children
CHENGDU, CHINA - JUNE 30: Apartment buildings rise into the smog filled skyline June 30, 2015 in Chengdu, China. First inhabited more than 4 thousand years ago, Chengdu now has more than 14 million people living in its metropolitan area. It is China's 5th most populous city and the provincial capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China. The city is is struggling to maintain its ancient cultural identity, while becoming a modern major tech and industrial center. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 03: A delegate wearing the mask walks to the Great Hall of the People during severe pollution before the opening of the 2nd session of the 12th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on March 3, 2014 in Beijing, China. Air pollution has become a big concern during the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Over 2,000 members of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative, a political advisory body, are attending the annual session, during which they will discuss the development of China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
This picture taken on June 23, 2015 shows vehicles running in smog covered streets in Beijing. China's cities are often hit by heavy pollution, blamed on coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use. The issue has become a major source of popular discontent with the Communist Party, leading the government to vow to reduce the proportion of energy derived from fossil fuels. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on June 23, 2015 shows a cyclist wearing a mask in Beijing covered by heavy smog. China's cities are often hit by heavy pollution, blamed on coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use. The issue has become a major source of popular discontent with the Communist Party, leading the government to vow to reduce the proportion of energy derived from fossil fuels. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A Chinese woman wearing a facemask walks in front of the Forbidden City on a hazy day in Beijing on June 23, 2015. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on March 29, 2014 shows residents breathing 'mountain air' from blue bags in a square in Zhengzhou in central China's Henan province, reportedly brought in from 190 kms away by a Henan-based travel company as part of a promotional event. Premature deaths and health problems from air pollution cost China as much as 300 billion USD a year, an official joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council said on March 25, calling for a new urbanisation model for the world's second-largest economy. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 09: People with mask walk in Nanluoguxiang on April 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. China is vowing to ammend its procedures to curb pollution as smog in some areas of China have registered over 20 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO) (Photo by Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)
This picture taken on March 29, 2014 shows residents breathing 'mountain air' from blue bags in a square in Zhengzhou in central China's Henan province, reportedly brought in from 190 kms away by a Henan-based travel company as part of a promotional event. Premature deaths and health problems from air pollution cost China as much as 300 billion USD a year, an official joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council said on March 25, calling for a new urbanisation model for the world's second-largest economy. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on March 26, 2014 shows a girl wearing a mask in Beijing as environmental authorities issued a 'yellow' smog alert for the capital. Chinese companies have offered up a fresh idea to help pollution-weary travellers while cashing in on public concerns over dirty air at the same time -- smog insurance. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 26: The people wear face mask walking on the road in smog in Beijing, China, on March 26, 2014. Chinese authorities suggest that old people and those who are sensitive should not get out from their house. Symbolic buildings of Beijing cannot seen due to the air pollution. (Photo by Ali Ihsan Cam/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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