The Effect of Traffic Exhaust on the Brain

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Today in research: traffic exhaust's effect on the brain, when working from home gets too stressful, one reason why Nobel winners are getting older, and the downside of e-cigarettes.

  • Ingesting exhaust on the way to work is more than just unpleasant. This seems to be a reccurring theme recently: we've noted research linking traffic jams to elevated heart attack risk and a greater number of health complaints from car and bus commuters. Now The Wall Street Journal adds an overview report on the topic, noting that "researchers suspect" traffic exhaust "may also injure brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory." In one case-study, Los Angeles-based researchers found chemistry changes in mice who live on "air piped in from a nearby freeway." And the exhaust seemed to have an effect: "They discovered that the particles inhaled by the mice... somehow affected the brain, causing inflammation and altering neurochemistry among neurons involved in learning and memory." [The Wall Street Journal]
  • Working from home can be exhausting, too.  We'd guess that plenty of people like the idea of rolling out of bed, groggily turning on a laptop, and being able to have the freedom to balance work tasks from the comfy confines of home. The reality can be starkly different. A newly released study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology  quantifies how a case-study of 316 participants "working for a large computer company" handled it. And, it seems, for those who had to worry about "family demands" (we'd guess that would include most everyone in reality), it was a stressful experience: "the more work and family demands conflicted, the more people suffered from exhaustion." [Journal of Business and Psychology]
  • Debunking the idea that scientists do their best work when they're young. Scientists who have made big breakthroughs tend to be older, finds a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "By the year 2000, it became very rare to have such a breakthrough before age 30 or 40 in these fields," CNN relayed. But the news outlet also added a caveat that "achievers tend to be younger when there's less known about a particular field." [CNN, Businessweek]
  • Should smokers switch to e-cigarettes first or just try to abstain altogether?  John Tierney's New York Times article pitting advocates of e-cigarettes (smokes that allow users to get their nicotine without "without the noxious substances found in cigarette smoke") vs. the coalition of government officials who've been working to ban the sale of them, is well worth the read. But there's one thing we didn't expect from the report outlining both sides: Tierney weighing in at the very end: "As a former addict myself — I smoked long ago, and was hooked on Nicorette gum for a few years — I can appreciate why the prohibitionists fear nicotine’s appeal. I agree that abstinence is the best policy." [The New York Times]

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