Natural V. Unnatural

Air pollution is a massive problem that affects all countries. It can lay waste to Mother Earth, cause acid rain, and do a whole host of nasty, unpredictable stuff to the ecosystem. Now, it looks like we may have to add "causes brain disease"to that list.

Researchers have been able to find magnetite nanoparticles in the human brain, the specific kind created by air pollution. These magnetite particles have links to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Our bodies actually have a natural supply of these particles. They come as a by-product of the iron in our brain. However, these magnetite particles pose a health risk. They create free radicals, which can cause brain disease. Luckily, as evidenced by the fact that not all of us currently have brain damage, the body can manage this natural amount. The problem starts when magnetite caused by air pollution enters the body.

It Comes in All Shapes

Just how did the researchers determine that the magnetite they saw in the brain was caused by air pollution? Well, it all came down to shapes. The magnetite produced in our brains is angular in shape. But when magnetite is created in a high-temperature environment, like in cars, it becomes circular.

That circular magnetite was what was found by the researchers from Lancaster University in their study. They used spectroscopic analysis to study 37 individuals between the ages of three and 92 years old from Mexico City and Manchester.

“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings," says Barbara Maher, lead of the study, in a statement.

Maher and her team also found that the spherical particles were normally smaller than 150 nm, which fits into the 200nm limit for particles to enter the brain via the nose.

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