The particles are called magnetic nanoparticles and have previously been associated with the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The researchers from the UK and Mexico determined that because of the shape and features of the nanoparticles, they were less likely to have been formed naturally by the brain but rather have come from an outside source. In this case most likely air pollution.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a build-up of proteins in the brain, leading to the loss of brain tissue, the death of nerve cells and a shortage of important brain chemicals.
It is a common cause of dementia and affects more than 520,000 people in the country, the Alzheimer’s Society website says.
Researchers have said they cannot say for sure whether there is a causal link between these nanoparticles and Alzheimer’s.
Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Little is known about the role of magnetite nanoparticles in the brain and whether their magnetic properties influence brain function.
“It’s interesting to see further research investigating the presence of this mineral in the brain, but it’s too early to conclude that it may have a causal role in Alzheimer’s disease or any other brain disease.
“We know that air pollution can have a negative impact on certain aspects of human health, but we can’t conclude from this study that magnetite nanoparticles carried in air pollution are harmful to brain health.”
He highlighted the fact that, while it is important to continue to study the impact of lifestyle and environment on brain health, age and genetic risk factors also play a role in influencing a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s.
Air pollution is one of the greatest causes for early death in the world, with indoor pollution alone contributing to 99,000 deaths in Europe.
According to a report by the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Pediatrics and Child Health air pollution is killing 40,000 people in Britain every year.
What’s perhaps most staggering is that 10,000 of those people live in London.
The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.