Every day, I see bicyclists and joggers along the roadways, often on heavily traveled roads and even on highways. While I applaud their desire to become healthier, I also know that the exhaust fumes from cars and trucks could damage their health.
Careful studies have shown that air pollution can result in inflammation and oxidative stress, and
trigger other processes that lead to neurological damage. Most studies use diesel exhaust and particulate matter to test its biological effects, but these findings also apply to automobile exhaust as well.
These fumes can attain high concentrations near roads and are generally quite elevated in large cities and dense metropolitan areas, where the majority of joggers and bicyclists are found. According to a 2011 article in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives,” studies on dogs exposed to particulate matter and air pollution demonstrated Alzheimer’s-like changes in their brain.
A combination of brain inflammation and excitotoxicity (immunoexcitotoxicity) caused by the fumes explains these findings. Another study found that exposure of 10 human volunteers to diesel exhaust fumes for one hour triggered dramatic changes in their frontal lobes as measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG), indicating a significant stress response in this critical area of the brain.
Incredibly, not only adults are at risk, but even the unborn.
A study by Tsuguyoshi Suzuki and his coworkers found that pregnant mice exposed to low levels of diesel exhaust for eight hours a day gave birth to male offspring with impaired motor movement. Analysis of their brains demonstrated impairment of two critical neurotransmitters — dopamine and norepinephrine.
The researchers also found that exposure to exhaust increased estrogen levels within the male rats.
Particles in diesel exhaust are known to have both estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects, and act as endocrine disrupters. This may affect the sexual development of the male brain. Occasionally, I see a pregnant woman jogging along roadways and it makes me shudder.
One intriguing study by S.M. Levesque and coworkers examined the effect of diesel exhaust delivered by different methods on a number of brain mechanisms. They found that exposing adult rats to diesel exhaust fumes for one month resulted in significant inflammation throughout the brain, but far higher in the midbrain, an area associated with Parkinson’s disease.
The studies found that the diesel exhaust activated brain microglia — the main immune cell
of the brain. Microglia activation within the midbrain is one of the earliest events seen in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
The researchers also found a direct dose-response effect — that is, higher concentrations of exhaust fumes lead directly to greater inflammation and formation of powerful free radicals within the brain.
What this means to you is that exercising along roadways, or even living in a heavily polluted city, primes your brain’s immune cells — the microglia. After that, any stimulation of your immune system, whether by vaccination or natural infections, will significantly worsen the brain damage.
This makes it more likely that you will suffer from early and severe Parkinson’s disease or one of the other neuroinflammatory degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
The particulate matter and fumes can enter the brain by several routes. One of the most damaging is by way of the nose and the olfactory nerves, which connect directly with the part of the brain that governs memory, learning, and frontal lobe behavior (dentate gyrus, hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex).
It can also enter by way of the lungs, which then carries it via the blood to the brain. Because exposure to pollution and automotive exhaust can cause inflammation anywhere in the body, it puts people with autoimmune diseases at risk as well. Such diseases include Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and thyroiditis.
During exercise, free radical generation is high, and the brain is under stress, making a person even more vulnerable to damage from exhaust fumes. We now know that much of the damage leading to these neurological diseases occurs long before it manifests clinically — even decades
The damage done to young people by exhaust will put them in a very high-risk group as they grow older. A good diet and a high intake of neuroprotective supplements can reduce the damage. These include:
• Ellagic acid
• Mixed tocopherols
• Mixed tocotrienols
• Vitamin C
• Mixed carotenoids
• B vitamins
Most cities have bike and jogging trails that are either in wooded areas or away from roadways. One should only use these special trails for such exercise. The cost is too high to ignore this extensive and powerful research.
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