Nutrients reduce harm from air pollution

Cyclists and pedestrians don’t emit pollution, but they ingest it—especially particulate matter (PM) from cars. Happily, recent research shows that various nutrients can offset some of the damage from these tiny airborne particles.

Breathing in fine particles, or PM2.5, can lead to a variety of immediate cardiovascular problems, including the biggest one—death. Now an international team of researchers has found that taking B-vitamin supplements—2.5mg of folic acid (B9), 50mg of B6, and 1mg of B12 per day for four weeks—greatly reduced these and other deleterious effects. This adds to previous findings by other labs showing that fish oil, olive oil, and vitamins C and E also lessen health problems caused by inhaling PM2.5.

Apparently, each type of nutrient reduces a different kind of harm from particulate matter:

  • B vitamins
    • increase in heart rate
    • changes to heart-rate variability
    • inflammation (higher white blood-cell count)
  • Fish oil
    • changes to heart-rate variability
    • increase in lipids
  • Olive oil
    • constriction of blood flow
  • Vitamins C and E
    • Sadly, the details are hidden behind a steep paywall. But the abstract states that they “protect the lungs against short-term ozone and PM exposure.”

Researchers exposed subjects to large amounts of particulate matter for two hours, so they weren’t testing the effects of chronic exposure. Plus, the subjects weren’t working or exercising hard. So the level of protection these nutrients might provide to, say, a construction worker in Beijing or a commuting cyclist in Jakarta is unclear.

Nonetheless, people encountering significant pollution from smokestacks or traffic should consider increasing their consumption of these nutrients.

On a personal note

For reasons besides pollution, I take over-the-counter supplements for B6 and B12. I’ve done some research on dosages and on the most effective forms of each. I take a P-5-P tablet for B6, and sublingual methycobalamin for B12. If you follow the links, you’ll see that neither costs much.


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