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The Neurological Impact of Climate Change

Maham Malik


Climate change is expected to affect every aspect of the working world, which calls for research and preparation in order to minimise their effects on the general population. Human health is no different. Where the respiratory effects of climate change are more commonly discussed, in the next few articles, I aim to shed a light on some of the research regarding climate change affecting other aspects of health and healthcare.

In this article, we will take a brief look at how climate change will likely impact global neurological health, which covers both the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (nerves in the rest of the body).


Strokes


Strokes occur when the blood supply to a part of the brain is severely reduced. This can be life-threatening and in patients who survive, can leave long-term neurological damage that can significantly reduce quality of life.

Climate change may increase the mortality of strokes via two fronts: via both increasing and decreasing temperatures and worsened air quality. The temperature related mortality for ischemic stroke was found mainly to be associated more with heat than cold, and is expected to increase in the coming 30-50 years (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412017306049?via%3Dihub,https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/strokeaha.117.020042). A review showed that long-term and short-term exposure to air pollution may be associated different types of stroke. (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiVgumzh-j6AhUFhFwKHVs3CecQFnoECAwQAw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.thelancet.com%2Fjournals%2Flanplh%2Farticle%2FPIIS2542-5196(21)00145-5%2Ffulltext&usg=AOvVaw0mIvSo5JGqNH1yaNF7_fEW).


Dementia


Dementia is general group of symptoms that cover a gradual decline in mental functions such as memory, social functioning, and reasoning. Dementia usually affects adults over the age of 65, and the likelihood of developing it increases as we age. There are a number of conditions that are classed as dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia rates are growing in today’s society as we generally tend to live longer, however, climate change may increase rates of dementia via an increase in temperature. A study conducted in England found that the risk of dementia was increased by 4.5% with every 1°C above 17°C (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8739554/). Another way that high temperatures impact those living with dementia is that they have been shown to be at a higher risk of hospitalisation (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8491247/).


B vitamins

B vitamins are a group of vitamins that are used in different chemical processes within the body. Some of the most important ones when it comes to neurological function include B9, which is important for neurological development in the foetus. B1, B6, and B12 are important for the maintenance of nerves. Deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to loss of vision, coordination, memory, and feeling along with other symptoms.


In the past few years, there has been increasing amounts of research on the effect of climate change on the amount of quality of our crops and food supplies. One such study found that rising CO2 levels that could be reached as soon as 2050 could reduce the B vitamins within rice by up to 30% (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7007128/). Similar trends have been shown in other foods particularly concerning vitamin B9.


This is of particular concern because unlike our previous examples, this is an indirect example of the chronic effect of climate change affecting human health. It is also one of the predicted ways that climate change will affect everyone’s health, not only those with risk factors such as old age and hypertension.


Multiple Sclerosis


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that causes problems with vision, balance, fatigue, and muscle problems. MS tends to affect people between the ages of 20-40 and affects more women than men. MS is a disease whose symptoms are classically worsened by increased temperature, which cause flares of worsening symptoms. As global climate rises, those suffering from MS, especially those who already live in warm climates, may experience a worsening of their symptoms both in intensity and frequency (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24561056/,https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003580)


In this article we have taken a superficial look at some of the ways that climate change will impact human health via different mechanisms, from rising temperatures to rising CO2 levels. There are far more examples of diseases that will be affected by climate change, including epilepsy, migraines, and meningitis.


Along with measures to limit climate change, we also need more research to look into exactly how vulnerable populations will be affected by climate change in order to prepare and strengthen our healthcare systems to respond and limit the damage to human health.

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