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B Vitamins May Protect from Negative Health Effects Caused by Air Pollution

Nutrition plays a role in protecting the body against concerns such as cardiovascular disease and weakened immune systems.


Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health. In 2014, 92% of the world population was living in places where air quality guidelines levels (set by the World Health Organization) were not met. This is thought to cause as many as 3 million premature deaths worldwide in just one year.

Exposure to air pollutants can lead to and increased risk of many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and lung diseases such as COPD and cancer.

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Aside from advocating for cleaner air, is there anything you can personally do to protect yourself from the impact of fine particle pollution? Possibly, says researchers at Columbia University. The team there found that healthy non-smokers who took vitamin B supplements nearly reversed the negative effects that air pollution had on the cardiovascular and immune systems.

The study was small, only 10 volunteers were included. They were exposed to concentrated ambient PM2.5 pollution (one of the most common air pollutants) for two hours after either receiving a placebo or a B vitamin supplement over the course of four weeks.

The team found that the vitamins reversed such effects as irregular heart rate and altered white blood cell count.

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The B Vitamins

The B vitamins are a collection of 8 water-soluble vitamins essential for many metabolic processes.

B1 (thiamine) - Thiamine helps to convert glucose into energy and has a role in nerve function. Good sources include whole cereal grains, seeds (especially sesame seeds), legumes, wheatgerm, nuts, yeast and pork.

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B2 (riboflavin) - Riboflavin is primarily involved in energy production and helps vision and skin health. Good sources of riboflavin – include milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, whole grain breads and cereals, egg white, leafy green vegetables, meat, yeast, liver and kidney.

B3 (niacin) - Niacin is essential for the body to convert carbohydrates, fat and alcohol into energy. It helps maintain skin health and supports the nervous and digestive systems. Good sources of niacin – include meats, fish, poultry, milk, eggs, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, mushrooms and all protein-containing foods.

B5 (pantothenic acid) - Pantothenic acid is needed to metabolize carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol as well as produce red blood cells and steroid hormones. Good sources of pantothenic acid are widespread and found in a range of foods, but some good sources include liver, meats, milk, kidneys, eggs, yeast, peanuts and legumes.

B6 (Pyridoxine) - Pyridoxine is needed for protein and carbohydrate metabolism, the formation of red blood cells and certain brain chemicals. It influences brain processes and development, immune function and steroid hormone activity. Good sources of pyridoxine – include cereal grains and legumes, green and leafy vegetables, fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, nuts, liver and fruit.

B7 (biotin) - Biotin is needed for energy metabolism, fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism and glycogen synthesis. Good sources of biotin include cauliflower, egg yolks, peanuts, liver, chicken, yeast and mushrooms.

Folic Acid (B9) - Folate is needed to form red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Good sources of folate include green leafy vegetables, legumes, seeds, liver, poultry, eggs, cereals and citrus fruits.

B12 (Cyanocobalamin) - B12 helps to produce and maintain the myelin surrounding nerve cells, mental ability, red blood cell formation and the breaking down of some fatty acids and amino acids to produce energy. Vitamin B12 has a close relationship with folate, as both depend on the other to work properly. Good sources of B12 include liver, meat, milk, cheese and eggs, almost anything of animal origin.

For the most part, B-vitamins are found in a variety of foods, so an additional supplement may not be necessary if you are eating a well-balanced diet. However, should you fall short, a general B-complex vitamin or a multi-vitamin that contains the RDA for these eight B-vitamins could help fill the gaps.

Journal Reference:
Jia Zhong, Andrea A. Baccarelli et al. B-vitamin Supplementation Mitigates Effects of Fine Particles on Cardiac Autonomic Dysfunction and Inflammation: A Pilot Human Intervention Trial. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 45322 DOI: 10.1038/srep45322

Griffith Bell, Samia Mora, Philip Greenland, Michael Tsai, Ed Gill, Joel D. Kaufman. Association of Air Pollution Exposures With High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol and Particle Number. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 2017; ATVBAHA.116.308193 DOI: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.116.308193

Additional Resources:
World Health Organization
Dietitians Association of Australia

Photo Credit: via Wikimedia Commons