Brain Power Against Chemical Solvents

Cognitive damage from exposure to chemical solvents is less in people with more education

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Education helps the human brain to make complex networks of neurological connections. Evidence suggests that these kinds of networks defend against chemical solvent damage.

A recent study conducted on French gas and electric company employees exposed to years of chemical solvents seems to have found that more developed networks in the brain helped ward off cognitive damage.

This provides yet another argument for benefits of quality education.

"Stay in school and stay away from chemical solvents."

Lisa F. Berkman, PhD, professor of public policy and epidemiology at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, was the lead author in a study that evaluated the cognitive consequences of working with chemical solvents.

The original intent of the study was to see whether or not chemical solvents did varying levels of damage to cognition based on how much education the person affected had received.

The reason education level is significant isn’t due to intelligence.

Dr. Berkman states: “People with more education may have a greater cognitive reserve that acts like a buffer allowing the brain to maintain its ability to function in spite of damage. This may be because education helps build up a dense network of connections among brain cells.”

The study focused on exposure to: chlorinated and petroleum solvents, and benzene and non-benzene aromatic solvents. Dr. Berkman’s team looked at 4,134 French national gas and electric company workers. The participants had worked most of their career with this company, 88 percent were retired and the average age was 59.

The participants were given thinking skills tests. The results revealed that 32 percent of people with less than a high school education, compared to 16 percent with a high school education, showed cognitive damage.

Dr. Berkman adds: “These findings suggest that efforts to improve quality and quantity of education early in life could help protect people’s cognitive abilities later in life. Investment in education could serve as a broad shield against both known and unknown exposures across the lifetime. This is especially important given that some evidence shows that federal levels of permissible exposure for some solvents may be insufficient to protect workers against the health consequences of exposure.”

It is significant to discover that quality education could help protect large groups of people from developing cognitive damage from chemical solvent exposure.

This study was published in the American Academy of Neurology’s journal, Neurology, May 2012.

The funding for this study was provided by the French National Research Agency and the French Agency for Environment and Work Health Security.

No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 30, 2012
Last Updated:
August 20, 2012