Teenage psychotic experiences more common in areas with high air pollution

air pollution
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Research from King's College London provides the first evidence of an association between air pollution and psychotic experiences in adolescence.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, provides a potential explanation for why growing up in cities is a risk factor for psychosis. This is the first time researchers have linked detailed geographical air data with a representative sample of young people across the UK.

Psychotic experiences, such as hearing voices and intense paranoia, are less extreme forms of symptoms experienced by individuals with a like schizophrenia. While are more common in adolescence than adulthood, young people who report psychotic experiences are more likely to go on to develop psychotic disorders, as well as a range of other mental health problems and suicide attempts.

The researchers found that psychotic experiences were significantly more common among adolescents with the highest exposure to (NO2), (NOx), and very small particulate matter (PM2.5), even after accounting for known for psychosis. NO2 and NOx together accounted for 60 percent of the association between living in an urban environment and having adolescent psychotic experiences.

Lead author Dr. Joanne Newbury, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) who is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, says: "We found that adolescent psychotic experiences were more common in urban areas. While the study could not show pollutants caused adolescents to have psychotic experiences, our findings suggest that air pollution could be a contributing factor in the link between city living and psychotic experiences."

Senior author Dr. Helen Fisher, from the IoPPN, says, "Psychotic disorders are difficult to treat and place a huge burden on individuals, families, health systems and society more broadly. By improving our understanding of what leads to psychotic experiences in adolescence, we can attempt to deal with them early and prevent people from developing psychotic disorders and other serious mental health problems."

The research used data from the E-Risk study, funded by the Medical Research Council, which comprises 2232 children born in England and Wales. Young people were assessed for psychotic experiences in private interviews at age 18, responding to questions such as 'do you hear voices that others cannot?" and 'have you ever thought you were being watched, followed or spied on?".

The data on psychotic experiences were linked with hourly estimates of air pollution at 20x20 metre grid points throughout the UK, funded by a grant from the Natural Environment Research Council, Medical Research Council and the Chief Scientist Office. Combining home addresses with two additional locations where the young people spent substantial amounts of time at age 17 meant the researchers could accurately model their exposure to air pollution over the space of a year.

Co-author Professor Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King's, says, "Children and are most vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution owing to the juvenility of the brain and respiratory system. Given that 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2050, uncovering the mechanisms linking the to psychosis should be an urgent health priority. Analysing the health impacts of air pollution is a core component of King's civic responsibility."

As the data in the study was taken at one point in time, the researchers say studies which track the association between air pollution and psychotic experiences over longer periods of time are needed. More work also needs to be done to understand if there are biological mechanisms linking to adolescent psychotic experiences and to rule out potential confounding factors like noise pollution.

Explore further

Psychotic experiences could be caused by trauma in childhood

More information: Joanne B. Newbury et al. Association of Air Pollution Exposure With Psychotic Experiences During Adolescence, JAMA Psychiatry (2019). DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.0056
Journal information: JAMA Psychiatry

Citation: Teenage psychotic experiences more common in areas with high air pollution (2019, April 1) retrieved 22 October 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-04-teenage-psychotic-common-areas-high.html
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Apr 01, 2019
A very unlikely effect of air pollution.

People were interviewed at age 18 and asked if they had had any psychotic experiences. Then, if they said yes, they tried to tie those experiences to air pollution. Not scientific at all.

It is disturbing what passes for research today.

Apr 01, 2019
So there is no chance that living in an urban environment is more stressful than a rural/suburban one right? And of course there is no chance that drug use has anything to do with the problem right?

Apr 01, 2019
It's becoming clear that air pollution is more dangerous than previously believed. Most 'non-communicable' diseases are caused by chronic immune system upregulation, driven by the transcription factor, NF-kB. There are many genetic and environmental factors which can contribute to this, and air pollution is one environmental factor.

The focus on NOx and PM 2.5s may be misguided, as they may simply be proxy indicators for other chemicals which are known to be pro-inflammatory and carcinogenic. These include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzopyrene, metal oxides and benzene.

Apr 01, 2019
Pretty impressive that it seems that some people want to make the case that air pollution is harmless and that "drugs" must be to blame. Wow. But hey, there are people out there saying that the solution for a nation filled to the rim with violence, hatred and ignorance is to buy weapons for everyone and to build a wall to stop poor people from coming in. And the one who is leading those really dumb ideas, top it saying that he does not work out because energy in the body is determined from the birth and if spend it, then it will be no more energy. And in the meantime, he eats and he eats and he eats....

So I guess it is the post truth, so anybody can say anything.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of studies showing how air pollution damages most organs in the human body, including the brain of course.

It just occurred to me that the reason to defend air pollution is because the moron in chief wants to go back to use coal and stoves with wood.

Apr 01, 2019
Environmental research is the pornography of science. This research is tainted by big government and its grants that are promoting a pro renewable and anti fossil agenda. Crony capitalism rules this science.

Apr 01, 2019
I hope no USA tax dollars went for this nonsense

Apr 01, 2019
So if there is consensus in dosage through the lungs is efficient - and most folks I know tend to breathe continuously ......

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