Pollution and Depression
Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.
Research into air quality and pollution has suggested that poor air quality can contribute to the symptoms of depression making depression counseling and treatment more challenging.
In one study with mice, the researchers have determined that long term exposure to air contamination led to memory complications and signs of depression. That’s right, even mice get depressed Of course, other researchers have looked at the impact polluted air has on the heart and lungs.
For this study, the researchers concluded that extended exposure to polluted air can have visible, negative effects on the brain, which can cause a variety of health problems. This could have significant ramifications for individuals who live and work in polluted urban areas throughout the world.
After 10 months of exposure, behavioral examinations were carried out on the mice and the mice who breathed the polluted air took significantly longer to complete simple learning tasks. A similar study found that mice exposed to the polluted air exhibited more signs of depression and anxiety.
Research on Pollution and Depression
Research has found that air pollutants, specifically particulate matter, induce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain that can lead to the manifestation of depression. Studies have found that the rate of depression was 2 times higher for each 10 µg/m3 increase in the nitric oxide level. Researchers have reported a 7.2% increase in the risk of emergency department visits for depressive episodes with every 19.4 µg/m3 of PM10 concentration.
These findings have important implications because most of the world’s population resides in areas where particulate matter concentrations are greater than the WHO guidelines, and the association between air pollution and depression cannot be ignored. Public policies and individual actions are essential to reduce the effect of air pollution. Examples include creating green spaces and urban forestation for eliminating air toxins, avoiding exercising near crowded roads and streets, and improving household ventilation by substituting low-emission cook stoves for traditional solid household fuel.
Treating The Air and Depression with Negative Ionization
Scientific studies have shown that atmospheres charged with negative ions relieve hay-fever and asthma symptoms, seasonal depression, fatigue and headaches. It’s also been shown that negatively ionized atmospheres improve performance of voluntary movement, increase work capacity, sharpen mental functioning, and reduce error rates.
Remarkable as it may seem, a room charged with negative ions was shown to stem bacteria growth and precipitate many airborne contaminants including pollen, dust and dust mites, viruses, second-hand cigarette smoke, animal dander, odors and toxic chemical fumes.
One double-blind trial compared the benefits of high-density negative ionization and low-density negative ionization for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Depressive symptoms improved by at least 50% for over half of patients receiving the high-density ionization for 30 minutes daily, while only 15% of those receiving low-density ionization had 50% or greater improvement. There were no side effects, and all of the patients who responded to the therapy relapsed when it was discontinued.
In another controlled trial, high-density ionization was as effective as light therapy in treating the symptoms of SAD. A study at the New York State Psychiatric Institute determined that high-density ionization combined with naturalistic dawn simulation was a particularly effective antidepressant.
Two well-conducted studies have looked at the effects of air ionization on winter depression. Both of these studies compared a high-density air ionizer with a low-density ionizer. People sat in a room at home with the ionizer for 30 minutes every morning over a 2-3-week period. People with winter depression who used the high-density ionizer showed much more improvement than those who used the low-density ionizer. No studies have been carried out on air ionization as a treatment for other types of depression.
In a number of studies, the use of an anion generator, a type of air ionizer, has shown promise for reducing the symptoms of acute mania.In a double-blind crossover study at Ohio State University, high concentrations of ambient anions were used to treat 20 acutely manic men.It was concluded that air ionization produced a significant antimanic effect in the treatment of bipolar disorder.
Ali, N. A., & Khoja, A. (2019). Growing Evidence for the Impact of Air Pollution on Depression. The Ochsner journal, 19(1), 4.
Air pollution key facts. World Health Organization (WHO). www.who.int/news-room/air-pollution. Accessed January 16, 2019.
Moussavi S, Chatterji S, Verdes E, Tandon A, Patel V, Ustun B. Depression, chronic diseases, and decrements in health: results from the World Health Surveys. Lancet. 2007. Sep 8;370(9590):851-858.
Szyszkowicz M, Rowe BH, Colman I. Air pollution and daily emergency department visits for depression. Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2009;22(4):355-362.
Vert C, Sánchez-Benavides G, Martínez D, et al. . Effect of long-term exposure to air pollution on anxiety and depression in adults: a cross-sectional study. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2017. August;220(6):1074-1080.
About the Author
Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a practicing therapist, researcher and author specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and related disorders. Dr. Fredricks is a best-selling author of several books including Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Depression. For more information on Dr. Fredricks work, visit her practice website www.DrRandiFredricks.com.