World Neurology Congress Spotlights the Impact of Climate Change and Environmental Risk Factors on Brain Health

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by Alice Melão |

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The impact of climate change and environmental risk factors on brain health was spotlighted at this year’s World Congress of Neurology, a gathering of scientists and clinicians to discuss the latest advances and future developments in neurology.

The recent XXIV World Congress of Neurology in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was attended by 4,000 neurologists and specialists from 126 countries.

Awareness is growing about the environment and its natural balance for several aspects of the human life, including health. A report from the World Health Organization called air pollution and climate change the number one threat in 2019.

“The public image of environmental pollution is that of an industrial complex with tall chimneys sputtering dark clouds of black smoke,” Gustavo Román, MD, of Houston Methodist, said in a news release. “Although that image is largely accurate as a major factor in global warming it minimizes for the public the role of other less obvious forms of environmental pollution and contamination that affect the nervous system, and the brain in particular.”

Invisible pollutants and neurotoxins spread in the atmospheric air, food, and water, and are capable of affecting the nervous system.

Growing evidence suggests that air pollution is associated with the reported higher incidence of stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological disorders. Although the collected data remains controversial, it has been widely recognized that environmental toxins play an important role on the development of late-onset sporadic Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Supported by early research, the scientific community has become more committed to understanding how different environmental factors and toxins may contribute to the development of human neurological diseases.

Small particles from air pollution and occupational exposure can lead to inflammation, oxidative stress — cellular damage as a consequence of high levels of oxidant molecules —  and degeneration of nerve cells, all mechanisms that are common among several human neurological disorders. In children, such toxic pollutants may result in delayed cognitive development and also be linked to autism.

“There are several conditions that threaten the planet — climate change, biodiversity decrease, air pollution — and they need to be addressed for the good of the planet and the health of the people who live on it,” said Jacques Reis, MD, of the Environmental Neurology Specialty Research Group at the World Federation of Neurology.

He believes a holistic, multifaceted, and translational approach is needed to get a more comprehensive understanding of the role the environment plays on the nervous system and diseases.

“Strong and strict governmental control of industrial pollutants and car emissions is required more than ever to protect the health of the populations and their children,” Román added. “Until the role of environmental pollutants is confirmed beyond doubt, no definitive preventive measures to control pollution will be forthcoming from countries and governments.”