Recent exposure to air pollution raises the risk for anxiety symptoms, according to a new study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues. The study of 71,271 women participating in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study found that higher exposure to PM2.5 (particulate matter <2.5 μm in diameter), especially higher recent exposure, is associated with an increased risk of symptoms of anxiety, including fearfulness, desire for avoidance, and tendency to worry.
The study was published March 24, 2015 in BMJ.
The researchers theorize that exposure to particulate matter could increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which have previously been found to exacerbate anxiety.
They write, “If confirmed, our findings may have policy and clinical implications, as it is possible that reductions in exposure to PM2.5, through changes to regulations or individual behavior, may help reduce anxiety symptoms.”