The air quality in many places throughout the world is so bad that simply going outside can increase your risk of death. The damaging effects of air pollution extend far beyond your lungs; it is also strongly associated with cardiovascular disease. However, some interesting new research out of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University has found that there is something that can mitigate the impact that fine particle pollution has on cardiovascular disease: Vitamin B.
In the first clinical trial to evaluate the effects of vitamin B supplements on the body’s response to exposure to air pollution, the researchers found that non-smokers in good general health who took vitamin B supplements were able to reverse the negative effects that light air pollution had on their cardiovascular and immune systems.
For the study, they looked at ten healthy individuals aged 18 to 60 who had no history of smoking and did not take any supplements or medications. After measuring their basic responses to clean air, they were exposed to air with high concentrations of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. This was followed by four weeks of a B vitamin regimen.
After the course of B supplements, the effects of air pollution on the participants’ heart rates went down by 150 percent, while its effect on their total white blood count dropped by 139 percent and its effect on their lymphocyte count fell 106 percent. There was also a noticeable reduction in the impact it had on their mitochondrial DNA. The supplement contained 50 milligrams of vitamin B6, 2.5 milligrams of folic acid, and 1 milligram of Vitamin B12.
Air pollution kills millions each year
Fine particulate matter is one of the most dangerous pollutants. It is given off by wood-burning stoves, diesel cars, and chemical reactions with other polluting gases. It measures less than 2.5 micrometers, or around 1/30th of the width of a human hair. Its fragments can embed themselves deep into lungs, adversely affecting heart and lung health by causing epigenetic changes in cells.
Ambient fine particulate pollution plays a role in an estimated 3.7 million premature deaths each year around the world, and its adverse impact on the cardiovascular system is largely responsible for this. In fact, at the population level, particulate matter pollution has been found to be the most common trigger for heart attacks. Air pollution is the fourth biggest risk for mortality around the world, according to the Global Burden of Disease project, and it is responsible for more deaths than obesity, substance abuse, malnutrition and unsafe sex combined.
The study is promising, but further research is needed on a larger scale. The researchers are now calling for follow-up studies in heavily polluted cities such as Beijing that involve higher numbers of participants in order to try to determine the precise levels of B vitamins that can help mitigate higher levels of PM2.5.
With the World Health Organization reporting that more than 90 percent of the global population lives in a place with unsafe levels of air pollution, the situation is dire. While it’s certainly positive to learn that taking a vitamin could be all it takes to undo the ill effects of air pollution, the true solution here is making a concerted effort to reduce air pollution levels around the world to protect public health and give people clean air to breathe.