Exposure to formaldehyde linked to cognitive impairment

23 December 2021

2 minutes to read


Letellier N, et al. Neurology. 2021; doi / 10.1212 / WNL.00000000000013146.

Letellier and his colleagues do not report any relevant financial disclosures.

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Occupational exposure to formaldehyde was detrimental to long-term cognitive function, according to the results of a French cohort study published in Neurology.

“The effect of formaldehyde on the brain has already been shown mainly in animal experiments, but very few studies have been performed on humans. Our results show that being or having been professionally exposed to formaldehyde is associated with cognitive disorders in a relatively young population (aged 45 to 70) ”, Noémie Letellier, MD, PhD, Institut des Neurosciences de Montpellier, University of Montpellier, told Healio.

“For the first time, the harmful effect of formaldehyde on cognitive performance has been demonstrated in a large sample of the general population and not in a restricted professional setting,” added Letellier.

Noemie Letellier

The researchers set out to determine any negative effects on the thought and communication process following accidental or occupational exposure to colorless, stinging gas.

A series of seven tests exploring overall cognitive function, verbal memory recall, as well as other language skills and executive functions were administered to 75,322 participants randomly selected from a national insurance company that covered employees, unemployed and retired people and members of their families. . Agricultural workers and the self-employed were excluded from the review.

More than 215,000 participants recruited between 2012 and 2020 were interviewed and examined by a doctor in one of 21 health screening locations across France, according to the study. Basic information regarding overall health and occupational exposures was collected through self-administered questionnaires.

The median age of all participants was 57.5 years, and 53% were female. Eight percent of those affected (6,047 participants, median age 57.5 years, 68% women) had been exposed to formaldehyde during their working life. The median age of the group not exposed to formaldehyde was 58 years.

The level of impairment of all participants was judged by parameters based on age, gender and education level, Letellier and colleagues wrote. Lifetime exposure to formaldehyde was measured using a matrix similar to a previous French study known as the Matgéné project, which aimed to establish tools for assessing exposure to potentially harmful agents at work and to link these results to health risk.

According to the study, the 8% exposed in the course of their work had a higher risk of cognitive problems. Cognitive impairment was also associated with an increased duration of exposure as well as exposure in a more recent period. However, the timing of exposure did little to alleviate the effects of cognitive problems in people who have been exposed to a high degree.

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