London: Exposure to residential air pollution during pregnancy may lead to cognitive impairment in children, a study warns.
According to the research, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, the air pollution levels related to brain alterations were below those considered to be safe.
"We observed brain development effects in relationship to fine particles levels below the current EU limit," said Monica Guxens from Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain.
This finding adds to previous studies that have linked acceptable air pollution levels with other complications including cognitive decline and foetal growth development.
Exposure to fine particles during foetal life was associated with a thinner outer layer of the brain, called the cortex, in several regions.
The study showed that these brain abnormalities contribute in part to difficulty with inhibitory control – the ability to regulate self-control over temptations and impulsive behaviour – which is related to mental health problems such as addictive behaviour and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
The researchers assessed air pollution levels at home during the foetal life of 783 children in Netherlands.
The foetal brain is particularly vulnerable during pregnancy - it hasn't yet developed the mechanisms to protect against or remove environmental toxins.
The findings of the study suggest that exposure to levels even below those considered safe could cause permanent brain damage.