Magnetite doesn’t sound like something you want in your brain, but it was found to be “abundant” in the brain tissue of 37 city-dwelling individuals who took part in a recent study. Now, researchers wonder just how hazardous the magnetic mineral may be—and whether or not it may be linked to cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
According to study authors, magnetite is toxic to the brain. Even more unsettling, it is found in high concentrations in some urban areas, where microscopic particles in the air can enter the body when we breathe and make their way to the brain. Once there, they may contribute to the production of harmful free radicals which can damage healthy cells.
“Our results indicate that magnetite nanoparticles in the atmosphere can enter the human brain, where they might pose a risk to human health, including conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said study co-author Barbara A. Maher with Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. She added that it may be necessary to reexamine and revise current air quality standards.
Researchers involved in the collaborative study believe it may be an important step toward exploring the brain health risks associated with environmental pollution. Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.