Jim

Pollution: Root cause of the old-age dumb-down?

In Culture, Science and fiction, Smartness on January 27, 2008 at 6:16 pm

More research is linking pollution exposure — this time, it’s lead — to deterioration late in life — this time, in brain function.

Could it be that the “natural” mental decline that afflicts many older people is related to how much lead they absorbed decades before?

That’s the provocative idea emerging from some recent studies, part of a broader area of new research that suggests some pollutants can cause harm that shows up only years after someone is exposed.

The new work suggests long-ago lead exposure can make an aging person’s brain work as if it’s five years older than it really is. If that’s verified by more research, it means that sharp cuts in environmental lead levels more than 20 years ago didn’t stop its widespread effects.

Nothing definitive, of course. As is frequently the case with science, the results are more intriguing than engineerable. Wonder if these guys are thinking about ways to exfoliate the lead ‘n’ such from our cells:

Both my folks died of cancer. I wonder: Was it genetic? Too much delicious barbecue? Dad used to smoke a pipe — did that come into play? Stray gamma rays? There’s just no knowing.

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