August 1, 2023

Older couple laughing with each other

As people age, their bodies may be less capable of handling the effects of environmental hazards, such as poor air quality. Researchers from NIEHS-funded Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) Core Centers are studying how environmental exposures may adversely affect the health and well-being of older adults. Research results may help inform policies that can protect their health.

Air Pollution Increases Disease Risk in Later Life

A meta-analysis led by researchers from the Harvard University EHS Core Center links fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) to an increased risk of developing dementia. The researchers found evidence of an association between PM2.5 and higher dementia risk, even at exposure levels below current national air quality standards.

“Given the massive numbers of dementia cases, identifying actionable, modifiable risk factors to reduce the burden of disease would have tremendous personal and societal impact,” said lead author and Harvard EHS Core Center Director Marc Weisskopf, Sc.D., Ph.D. “Exposure to PM2.5 and other air pollutants is modifiable to some extent by personal behaviors — but more importantly through regulation.”

Columbia EHS Core Center researchers found that elevated exposure to air pollution, particularly nitrogen oxides, was associated with reduced bone density among postmenopausal women. Their study is the first to assess the effects of air pollution mixtures on bone health in women who have already undergone menopause.

“Improvements in air pollution exposure, particularly nitrogen oxides, will reduce bone damage in postmenopausal women, prevent bone fractures, and reduce the health cost burden associated with osteoporosis among postmenopausal women,” said lead author and Columbia EHS Core Center Director Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D.

The Intersection of Toxicology and Aging

Johnny Wise, Ph.D., a member of the EHS Core Center at the University of Louisville, discussed the intersection of toxicology and aging with Society of Toxicology (SOT) TV. In the short video, he talks about the need for more research to examine how exposure to chemicals affects older adult health. He also described his research using animal models to better understand how exposure to metals affects health later in life.

“We know that children and adults have different responses to environmental toxicants,” said Wise. “However, it is largely unknown how chemicals affect older adults’ biology, and there are no regulations to protect them.”

Learn more about the intersection between toxicology and aging research in this 2022 perspective article authored by Wise.