Do you live in a city where looking up the air quality forecast is just as important as checking the weather forecast for the day? Many places around the world have terrible pollution problems, and it can be harmful to spend too much time outdoors on particularly poor quality days. And even in locations where the air quality tends to be a little better, we still have to deal with automobile emissions, power plants, and the like. But now new research suggests that we might be able to protect ourselves, at least in one regard, naturally and easily—simply by taking vitamin B.
The study, which was conducted as a joint effort through City University of Hong Kong, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, New York, found that vitamin B may help prevent a dangerous form of air pollution from damaging our bodies.1 Zhong, Jia; et al. “B vitamins attenuate the epigenetic effects of ambient fine particles in a pilot human intervention trial.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 13 March 2017. Accessed 19 March 2017. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/03/07/1618545114.abstract.
Their focus was on was on a pollutant known as PM2.5, which is a kind of particulate matter with a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers. Its size, approximately 1/40th the width of a human hair, makes it particularly dangerous because it is readily inhaled and small enough to spread through the body via the blood. This can produce systemic inflammation in the lungs if PM2.5 is being breathed in regularly. It may also eventually cause epigenetic mutations at a cellular level, which occur when there are alterations in the way genetic traits express themselves without changing your DNA. To learn much more about this topic, read Jon Barron’s aptly titled blog, Everything You Need to Know About Epigenetics.
The current experiment involved subjects being exposed to clean air and a placebo to record baseline responses. They were given the placebo for four weeks, then exposed through a face mask to air from a highly polluted area in downtown Toronto. The researchers measured methylation changes to DNA, which contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation; it increased in each participant. However, when the volunteers were given a vitamin supplement containing 1 milligram of vitamin B12, 50 mg of vitamin B6, and 2.5 mg of folic acid daily for four weeks, it reduced the damage to the DNA by a range of 28 to 76 percent.
It must be noted that the study was tiny in scope, with only 10 subjects included. Obviously, this detracts from the strength of the findings as we have no idea whether the results would be typical and could be replicated in a larger population sample. However, that being said, it might be a very smart move to begin increasing your consumption of vitamin B.
There are numerous foods that are rich in B vitamins. To maximize your intake of B6, consider eating sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, tuna, salmon, and bananas. And some good sources of B12 are clams, oysters, mackerel, sardines, and eggs. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin B6 is between 1.3 and 1.7 mg, but it is safe at considerably higher levels, up to 100 mg in fact. As for vitamin B12, the recommended daily allowance is 2.4 mcg, with no restrictions on an upper limit. If you can’t achieve those levels through your dietary habits alone, taking a supplement is an excellent idea.
This may be most important for people living in major cities known to have a severe air quality problem, such as Beijing, China; Delhi, India; and Bakersfield, California, where pollution levels are well above what is considered healthy. But even those of us who live in areas where the air is relatively cleaner are regularly exposed to pollution through automobile exhaust, industrial activity, and the burning of fossil fuels.
And in addition to its potential for diminishing the harmful effects of air pollution on our bodies, vitamin B is also beneficial in other ways. Vitamin B6 contributes to the health of the central nervous system and metabolism, and B12 has an important role in the maintenance of red blood cells and nerve cells.
Note: for those of you who clicked on the link to Jon Barron’s Everything You Need to Know About Epigenetics, you may have noticed that Jon actually recommended an even stronger version of the B vitamin formula that was used in the study. “If you decide to supplement with the methyl building blocks, look for a mix that contains approximately 50 mg of B6, 500 mcg of B12, 800 mcg of folic acid, and 500 mg of TMG. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for your genes.”
|↑1||Zhong, Jia; et al. “B vitamins attenuate the epigenetic effects of ambient fine particles in a pilot human intervention trial.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 13 March 2017. Accessed 19 March 2017. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/03/07/1618545114.abstract.|