Monday, March 18, 2013

Particles of Impatience

It seems to me that as a culture we are slowly beginning to realize the connection between certain chemical exposures and associated health problems. Most people, for example, seem to have an understanding that chemicals may contribute to the development of cancer. What is not yet widely understood is the magnitude and scope of the chemical problem, including the wide variety of possible effects. This may be especially true for effects that might be considered emotional or behavioral rather than physical.

I ran across an interesting study recently linking fine particles found in automobile exhaust, among other sources, with impatience and unwillingness to delay gratification in laboratory animals. Researchers exposed baby mice to tiny particles collected from roadway air. When the mice grew up, they were 43% more likely to repeatedly and "feverishly" push a lever to receive a free reward instead of waiting for it to fall.

A report of the study published in Environmental Health News made the following points:

  • The mice were exposed early in life, but the effects were not seen until they were grown.

  • Similar traits in humans are related to cognitive and behavioral disorders, obesity, attention deficits, rule-breaking, and addiction.

  • Tiny particles, such as those used in the study, may be released by cars, trucks, industry, incineration, wood fires, cooking, and certain office equipment.

  • Ultrafine particles can lodge in the heart, brain, and other parts of the body and can carry other pollutants with them. Exposure can affect cardiovascular and respiratory health.

  • Studies suggest that the behavioral effects may be due to the fact that the particles cause inflammation and oxidative damage to the brain.

It is difficult to completely avoid exposure to automobile exhaust, but there are ways to protect yourself to some degree. Parking a car in an attached garage allows exhaust fumes to enter the house, and is not a healthy practice. Parking elsewhere is the healthiest choice, but Installing a high-capacity ventilation fan in the garage can help mitigate the problem somewhat, as can making sure the door between the garage and house seals well and stays shut at all times. Fine particulate exposure can also be decreased by using ventilation fans near stoves and office equipment and by choosing not to smoke, use combustion appliancesor burn yard waste.

I’ve often heard it said that when you’re feeling angry or impatient you should take a deep breath and count to ten. Maybe we should re-think that “take a deep breath” part.

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