Study Finds Link Between Air Pollution And Psychotic Experiences In Teens

Scientists tracked 2,000 teens across England and Wales and found some psychotic experiences -- like hearing voices and extreme paranoia -- are more common in teenagers living in polluted areas.

It's the first time scientists have linked toxic air to these kinds of experiences in teens.

Researchers from King's College in London recorded the areas frequented by participants, as well as their home address, before asking them to answer a range of questions such as "do you hear voices others cannot?".

They found that those who had had psychotic experiences often lived in urban areas where the exposure to nitrogen oxide -- largely from diesel vehicles -- was far greater.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, took into account other potential causes like smoking, alcohol and drug use, and neighbourhood crime levels.

London at sunset IMAGE: Getty

While noise pollution couldn't be ruled out as a driving factor, it was found that in areas with the highest levels of nitrogen oxides, there were 12 teens who reported psychotic experiences for every 20 teens who did not.

In areas with lower levels, on the other hand, there were only seven teens who reported psychotic experiences for every 20 teens who did not.

Lead researcher, Dr Joanne Newbury confirmed that "our findings suggest air pollution could be a contributing factor in the link between city living and psychotic experiences", according to the BBC

The researchers stressed that more work was needed to verify a causal link, but said that it adds to increasing evidence that air pollution could be effecting the body outside the heart and lungs.

“It’s no different from smoking and lung cancer would have been originally,” Dr Helen Fisher, one of the authors said.

“We all thought: ‘Obviously there must be an association’. But you can’t really look at that as definitive until you’ve looked at it in lots of different studies.”

They speculate that tiny particles of air pollution could get past the lungs and into the bloodstream and then on to the brain.

Adolescents were at the centre of the study because their developing brains are more vulnerable to psychotic experiences and many can go on to develop disorders like schizophrenia later in life.

Given predictions that 70 per cent of the world's population will be urban by 2050, experts around the world are calling for more to be done to drastically lower pollution levels.