Skip to main content
Home » Respiratory » What impact does air pollution have on our brain and mental health?
Respiratory Health Q2 2023

What impact does air pollution have on our brain and mental health?

detail of white smoke polluted sky
detail of white smoke polluted sky
iStock / Getty Images Plus / kodda

Dr Malcolm White

Clean Air Specialist, Global Action Plan

This year’s Clean Air Day theme — ‘Clean up our air to look after your mind’ — highlights the growing evidence that air pollution can impact mental and brain health.

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to our health, no matter who you are or where you live. Air pollution affects you from your first breath to your last, as the damage to our health can start in the womb and carry on through into old age.

Air pollution damages overall health

There is no safe level of air pollution, and the health effects of air pollution are complex. It increases the risk of many health conditions and makes some existing health problems worse. Individuals with heart and lung disease, children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. 

The relationship between air pollution and our health has been studied for decades. While the physical health impacts of air pollution — such as asthma, heart disease and cancers — are well documented, more researchers are beginning to understand how air pollution can affect the brain and the mind. 

The Government and industries need to make
decisions that improve air quality for everyone

People who breathe polluted air are more likely to develop mental health and brain problems than those who breathe clean air. Research shows that there is an association between air pollution and conditions including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and mood disorders. It also leads to a more rapid decline in cognitive function, including an increased risk of developing dementia. 

One of the main culprits is particulate matter (PM). They are tiny pieces of solid or liquid substances that are inhaled as people breathe. When we breathe polluted air, these small pollution particles can enter through our lungs, into our bloodstream and reach the brain. It can cause inflammation and change the chemistry of our brain, negatively impacting our mental health. 

Taking steps to clear the air

By taking clean air actions, like driving less, we not only protect our mental and brain health but also benefit our wider physical health and the environment around us. However, we can’t do it alone — the Government and industries need to make decisions that improve air quality for everyone. We must use our voices to fight for cleaner air.

This Clean Air Day, we can all take simple steps to build a clean air future together — to protect our mental, physical and planet’s health. Any reductions in air pollution that we make can benefit our health and the local community.

Learn more about how you can protect yourself from air pollution on the Clean Air Hub

Next article