The Sun (Malaysia)

Forest fires smoke may harm our brain health


Greece to Hawaii and Canada, many countries and regions have been severely affected by wildfires this summer, with all the environmen­tal and health consequenc­es that result. In addition to its effects on the respirator­y and cardiovasc­ular systems, inhalation of these fumes may also be harmful to brain health, potentiall­y even leading to neurocogni­tive or mood disorders, as a new study reveals.

Increasing­ly frequent and intense droughts and heatwaves encourage the outbreak of forest fires, which can then spread rapidly due to the wind or the nature of the vegetation and soil, sometimes spiralling out of control. We saw several examples of this phenomenon this summer in Greece and other parts of Europe, North America, the Pacific, and North Africa.

It’s a phenomenon that has serious consequenc­es for both the environmen­t and human health, according to France’s Agency for Food, Environmen­tal, and Occupation­al Health and Safety (Anses) outlined this summer.

The French administra­tive body explains that inhalation of these fumes, which can generate suspended particles, carbon monoxide, and other chemical substances, can cause respirator­y and cardiovasc­ular effects and is particular­ly damaging to firefighte­rs and people with chronic respirator­y conditions and cardiovasc­ular disease.

But there could be an even greater impact on health. That’s according to a new study by researcher­s at the University of

New Mexico’s Health Sciences, which links wildfire smoke to brain health. Their research, published in the Journal of Neuroinfla­mmation, reveals more specifical­ly that inhalation of such smoke could be responsibl­e for inflammati­on of the brain and that such inflammati­on persists for at least a month.

“The inflammato­ry process

affects the hippocampu­s, the brain region associated with learning and memory, altering neurotrans­mitters and signalling molecules,” explains Professor Matthew Campen, one of the study’s authors, via a press release.

For their research, the scientists exposed rodents to smoke from a wood fire every other day for two weeks. At the end of the

experiment, they identified proand anti-inflammato­ry responses when tiny particles of smoke managed to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), whose function is to prevent, among other things, the passage of foreign substances, sometimes toxic, and other pathogenic agents into the brain.

What’s more, this inflammati­on was not short-term and may even be long-lasting. “We were able to measure the inflammato­ry response amplitude and time frames. We expected it to be a lot shorter. Some of it progressed out to 28 days, and we didn’t see a complete resolution, and that was very scary to us,” says David Scieszka, who led the research.

This observatio­n is all the more alarming as forest fires are multiplyin­g at speed around the world, exposing a growing number of people to these unhealthy fumes.

According to the researcher Matthew Campen, “neuroinfla­mmation is the seed for all kinds of bad things in the brain, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease — the buildup of the plaques — but also alteration­s in neurodevel­opment in early life and mood disorders throughout life.

He adds: “If you’re a firefighte­r, or if you’re just a citizen in a community that has had some of these dramatic smoke exposures, you could be having neurocogni­tive or mood disorders weeks or months after the event.”

In the event of a forest fire, the French government recommends staying indoors, provided your home is not in danger, and plugging air vents. It is also advisable to apply a damp cloth over the mouth and nose to avoid inhaling the smoke.

Some experts also recommend wearing an N95 mask, designed to filter out particles potentiall­y harmful to health, and using an air purifier, preferably fitted with a high-efficiency particulat­e air (HEPA) filter.

 ?? ?? Inhaling smoke from forest fires could affect learning and memory, according to a new scientific study.
Inhaling smoke from forest fires could affect learning and memory, according to a new scientific study.

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