Air pollution linked to anxiety, study finds

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According to a new study from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, air pollution may have psychological effects as well as physical ones. It has long been known that air pollution is linked to a host of physical ailments, but the study of whether it can affect mental health is relatively new. The researchers wanted to investigate whether there could be a link between living in polluted areas and experiencing elevated levels of symptoms related to anxiety.

To investigate this question, the researchers looked at data from the 2004 Nurses’ Health Study, a widespread survey of the health of female registered nurses in the U.S. Looking at data from 71,271 women, they found that those who were exposed to higher levels of fine particulate pollution were more likely to report often experiencing three symptoms associated with anxiety, including «fearfulness», «desire for avoidance» and «tendency to worry». Specifically, women who lived between 50 and 200 meters from a major road and were therefore exposed to more vehicle-generated pollution reported higher levels of anxious symptoms than women who lived more than 200 meters away.

Lead researcher Melinda Power of Johns Hopkins, who was employed by Harvard at the time of the study, cautioned that the results were only preliminary. She suggested that some of the anxiety symptoms found in women who lived by major roadways could be attributed to other forms of pollution, like constant noise.

«But it’s an interesting finding. And studies need to look further into the association between air pollution and mental health,» Power said in a statement.

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