Complex of B-vitamins offers protection against air pollution

A small but extremely promising study offers hope for those living in areas with unsafe levels of air pollution.

According to the World Health Organization, that’s about 90% of the world’s population.

U.S. researchers have discovered that high doses of B-vitamins may “completely offset” the damage caused by very fine particulate matter.

One of the pollutants that is considered the most dangerous is very fine particulate matter, referred to as PM2.5, where particles have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres.

These complex particulates come from diesel cars, wood burning stoves and as a by-product of chemical reactions between other polluting gases.

At around 1/30 the width of a human hair, PM2.5 fragments can lodge deep in the human lung and contribute to lung and heart health issues in the young and old.

Scientists have long suspected that PM2.5 causes what are termed epigenetic changes in our cells that can damage our health.

Now in this new human trial, an international team of scientists wanted to see if exposure to concentrations of PM2.5 could be mitigated by a daily supplementation of a B-vitamin complex.

The supplement contained 2.5 mg of folic acid (vitamin B9), 50 mg of vitamin B6, and 1 mg of vitamin B12.

Ten volunteers were tested initially exposed to clean air while given a placebo to measure their basic responses. The same volunteers were later tested with large doses of B vitamins while exposed to air containing high levels of PM2.5.

The researchers found that a four week B-vitamin supplementation limited the PM2.5 effect by between 28-76% at ten gene locations. They found a similar reduction in impact on the mitochondrial DNA, the parts of cells that generate energy.

“Where we quantify the effect, it is almost close to a complete offset on the epigenome of the air pollution,” said Jia Zhong from Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study.

Researchers caution that the study was very small—involving just 10 subjects—and included just a single dosage amount. Regardless, they point out that the results are real and are encouraging additional, more extensive, studies in high-pollution areas.

Two cities the researchers have suggested include Mexico City, Mexico and Beijing, China—two of the most polluted cities in the world.

The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and can be found here.