Air Pollution May be Linked With Psychotic Experiences in Teens: Study

There may be a link between air pollution and psychotic experiences in teens, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data gathered from more than 2,000 teens in Wales and England. They found that those exposed to the highest levels of three air pollutants -- nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter -- were 71 percent, 72 percent and 45 percent more likely, respectively, to report psychotic experiences than those exposed to the lowest levels of the pollutants, CNN reported.

And the odds of having a psychotic episode "gradually increase as you move from rural to suburb to urban settings," noted study lead author Joanne Newbury, a postdoctoral researcher at King's College London. Teens in the "most urban settings" had "94 percent greater odds of psychotic experiences compared to those living in rural settings," she said.

Study co-author Helen Fisher, a reader of developmental psychopathology at King's College London, said that "when we talk about psychotic experiences, we are talking about people who are experiencing things like hearing or seeing things other people don't or feeling very paranoid," CNN reported.

The study was published March 27 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

"One of the most consistent findings over the past few decades has been a link between cities and psychosis," Newbury said. "Children who are born and raised in urban versus rural settings are almost twice as likely to develop psychosis in adulthood."

She noted that the study does not show a cause-and-effect relationship but an association between air pollution and psychosis, CNN reported.

The study is "nice" but lacks rigor, according to Dr. Jim van Os, a professor and head of the Brain Division at University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands. He was not involved in the study.

At best, it is "a hypothesis to examine in future work," he wrote in an email, CNN reported.

There "is more work that needs to be done with this study," Sophie Dix, a cognitive researcher and director of research at MQ, a nonprofit that funds mental health research, told the Science Media Center.

"There is no evidence that pollution necessarily causes psychosis or whether this is one of many factors or acting in isolation," said Dix, who was not involved in the study, CNN reported.

"There is a bigger picture here, but that does not diminish the importance of these findings and the potential that comes from this," Dix said.

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