Particles increase the risk of depression · Health and Science

Particles increase the risk of depression · Health and Science

Where does this news come from?

In De Standaard of 11 September 2023, journalist Maxi Eckert describes recently published research among a large group of Belgians on the impact of fine particulate matter on health: Young people and adults who live in a neighborhood with a lot of airborne particles have an average of 10% more visits to their GP Of citizens who live in a neighborhood with relatively healthy air (1). The article links asthma, cardiovascular disease, and depression: “Air pollution is known to promote depression.” What Luc Bruyneel, who led the research, confirms (2): ‘The effects of air pollution are very broad, both physically and mentally.’

There is a lot of research on the relationship between living in polluted air and depression. A recent review study (2022) looks at 39 studies that investigated this association (3). A distinction is made between the type of air pollution: i.e. pollutants dispersed in the air (PM, NOx, SOx and CO). Particulate matter (PM) is expressed as the size of dust particles: PM2.5 are all particles up to 2.5 micrometers in size. The researchers calculated that every increase of 10 micrograms/m3 of PM2.5 in a residential area increases the risk of depression by 7%. For nitrogen dioxide, the risk of depression increases by 4% for every increase of 10 µg/m3. There are not enough data for sulfur oxide and carbon dioxide to draw conclusions. In their analysis, the researchers took into account as many influencing factors as possible (socioeconomic differences, smoking behavior, age, etc.). The conclusion is that exposure to polluted air increases the risk of depression.

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(1) De Standard September 11, 2023. The higher the air quality, the more visits to the doctor. Maxi Eckert.

How should you interpret this news?

Particulate matter is now considered the most dangerous air pollutant. “Fine” refers to the size of the dust particles. They are so small that they can penetrate deeply into the smallest lung particles.

The overall study found a clear link between depression and exposure to polluted air. This does not prove that polluted air can cause depression. It remains a matter of speculation about exactly how this connection works. Long-term exposure to polluted air may lead to inflammatory processes in the body that may lead to an imbalance in the hormonal systems or transmitting substances (neurotransmitters) in the brain. Immunity may decrease as a result of ambient air pollution.


Fine particles are harmful to health and lead to more visits to the doctor. This is clear from new Belgian research. The damage to health is not only physical, but also mental. There is already a clear link between long-term exposure to particulate matter and depression, which has already been proven in previous well-conducted research. Scientists have not yet figured out exactly how to explain this association.


(2) A Franken, E Bijens, C Hormans et al. Association of air pollution and green spaces with all-cause general practitioner and emergency room visits: a cross-sectional study of young people and adults living in Belgium. Environmental Research 2023;236:116713. ISSN 0013-9351.

(3) E Borrone, A Pisatori, in Bolati al. Air pollution exposure and depression: an updated comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis. Environmental Pollution 2022 ; 292,118245.

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