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Even short-term exposure to air pollution affects brain function, a new study shows. People exposed to diesel exhaust for just two hours had reduced connectivity in areas of the brain associated with attention and focus.

Researchers exposed 25 healthy adults to diesel exhaust and filtered air for two hours, with a two-week break between each exposure. Before and after the exposures, the researchers measured activity in a region of the participants' brains called the default mode network.

They found that compared to pre-exposure, participants had reduced connectivity throughout the default mode network of their brains after brief exposure to diesel exhaust. There were no changes in connectivity following exposure to filtered air.

The default mode network is a collection of interconnected neural structures involved in attention and focus. Disturbances in default mode network connectivity are associated with poor working memory, reduced performance, and work-related productivity losses.

Sulforaphane, a bioactive compound derived from broccoli – and particularly abundant in broccoli sprouts – promotes urinary excretion of some components of air pollution. Learn more in the clip featuring Dr. Jed Fahey.

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