Common household chemicals harmful to brain health: Case Western study

CLEVELAND (WJW) – A new study suggests common household chemicals pose a threat to brain health.

The study was led by a team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

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The research suggests that chemicals found in everyday items from furniture to hair products may be linked to neurological diseases.

The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience this week, indicates that common home chemicals affect the brain’s oligodendrocytes.

Oligodendrocytes are a specialized cell type that help generate protective insulation around nerve cells.

“Loss of oligodendrocytes underlies multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases,” said the study’s principal investigator, Paul Tesar, the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professor of Innovative Therapeutics and director of the Institute for Glial Sciences at the School of Medicine.

“We now show that specific chemicals in consumer products can directly harm oligodendrocytes, representing a previously unrecognized risk factor for neurological disease.”

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According to researchers, while millions of people are impacted by neurological problems, only a fraction of the cases can be attributed to genetics alone.

Researchers analyzed more than 1,800 chemicals for the study.

They identified chemicals that selectively damaged oligodendrocytes belong to two classes: organophosphate flame retardants and quaternary ammonium compounds.

Quaternary ammonium compounds are present in many personal-care products and disinfectants.

Many electronics and furniture include organophosphate flame retardants.

The researchers found quaternary ammonium compounds cause oligodendrocytes to die, while organophosphate flame retardants prevented oligodendrocytes from maturing.

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“We found that oligodendrocytes—but not other brain cells—are surprisingly vulnerable to quaternary ammonium compounds and organophosphate flame retardants,” said Erin Cohn, lead author and graduate student in the School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program.

The association between human exposure to these chemicals and the effects on brain health requires further investigation, the experts warned.

“Our findings suggest that more comprehensive scrutiny of the impacts of these common household chemicals on brain health is necessary,” Tesar said.

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