Climate Crisis Impact on Brain Health: A Silent Epidemic

Climate Crisis Impact on Brain Health: A Silent Epidemic

Riddhi Doshi 31/03/2024
Climate Crisis Impact on Brain Health: A Silent Epidemic

The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 unleashed more than just physical devastation on New York City.

For cognitive neuroscientist Yoko Nomura, it presented a unique opportunity to investigate the long-term effects of prenatal stress on children's mental health. Her Stress in Pregnancy study, initiated in 2009, took on a new urgency as she observed a subset of mothers who experienced the hurricane during pregnancy. The results, published in a 2022 study, revealed alarming disparities in psychiatric conditions among children exposed to prenatal stress, including significantly heightened risks of anxiety, depression, ADHD, and conduct disorder later in life.

Nomura's research highlights a profound and often overlooked aspect of the climate crisis: its impact on neurological well-being. As the world grapples with escalating environmental changes, from rising temperatures to extreme weather events, our brains are undergoing significant transformations. Studies across various disciplines have shown that heatwaves and elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide can impair cognitive function, decision-making abilities, and even neuronal communication. Furthermore, the spread of vectors carrying brain diseases like ticks and mosquitoes is expanding as temperatures rise, posing additional threats to neurological health.

Neuroscientists like Burcin Ikiz underscore the urgent need to address the neurodegenerative effects of the climate crisis. Prolonged exposure to heat and air pollution has been linked to the activation of biochemical pathways associated with diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Research suggests that continued fossil fuel burning will exacerbate these risks, leading to more cases of dementia and worsening symptoms of neurodegeneration. Alarmingly, neurological diseases are evolving in younger populations, with studies identifying physical hallmarks of Alzheimer's in individuals as young as 11 months old.

The impact of environmental degradation on brain development is particularly concerning for children, as exposures during critical periods can have lifelong consequences. Studies have shown that prenatal exposure to extreme heat increases the risk of neuropsychiatric conditions in children, while toxic algae blooms, exacerbated by climate change, may contribute to neurological disorders like ALS. The chronic nature of these exposures underscores the need for proactive measures to safeguard neurological health in the face of climate-related challenges.

Despite growing evidence of the neurological costs of the climate crisis, a comprehensive understanding of these impacts remains elusive. Initiatives like the International Neuro Climate Working Group, spearheaded by Ikiz, aim to address this gap by bringing together experts from neurology, environmental science, and cognitive neuroscience. By integrating insights from various disciplines, researchers hope to develop preventive strategies and policy recommendations to mitigate the neurological risks posed by climate change.

Nomura emphasizes the importance of resilience research in combating the neurological effects of environmental stressors. While prenatal exposure to moderate stress may confer some level of resilience, everyone has a breaking point beyond which the detrimental effects become overwhelming. Identifying these thresholds and developing interventions to bolster neurological resilience are critical steps in safeguarding brain health in a changing climate.

However, advancing research in this field is fraught with challenges, particularly due to ethical constraints and the slow pace of human development. Longitudinal studies, like Nomura's ongoing research, require time and patience to yield meaningful insights into the long-term effects of climate-related stressors on neurological health.

As the world grapples with the far-reaching consequences of the climate crisis, addressing its impact on brain health must be a priority. By fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and investing in resilience research, we can better understand and mitigate the neurological risks posed by environmental changes, ensuring a healthier future for generations to come.

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Riddhi Doshi

Mental Health Expert

Riddhi Doshi trains and coaches corporate leaders, educators and parents on issues of mental health and behavior. She is an internationally certified Parenting & Behaviour Coach. In past 15+ years she has conducted 2540+ open workshops, delivered 87000+ hours of talks, 53000+ hours of counseling sessions covering 59000+ students and 62,000+ women from various fields. Parenting sessions conducted by Riddhi are housefull and recent;y she completed her 366th Parenting session. She has been a speaker and advisor at various institutions and organizations including IIM, Ahmedabad, Rotary Club, Tata Power, Larson & Toubro and The Time of India. She holds an MBA in HRD, LLM and numerous other professional certifications from prestigious international institutions including University of Cambridge, BSY University, London, City & Guilds, London, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and NMIMS, Mumbai. She has been awarded with “National Award for Cultural Activities by AVANTIKA- Delhi”, “Excellence in Wellness”, “Young Entrepreneurs Award”, “Self Made Diva Award” among various others. With a mission to “make corporate leaders, educators and parents empowered and more aware about mental health & wellness”, Riddhi regularly gives interviews on leading media platforms. She loves to interact with corporate leaders, educators and parents to discuss about women issues, child psychology and parenting challenges.

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