Vitamin B could protect against air pollution-induced heart disease

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Taking vitamin B supplements could be one way to protect yourself from air pollution, a new study finds.

In research conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, healthy non-smokers who took vitamin B supplements reversed negative effects air pollution had on their cardiovascular health and immune system.

The study, recently published in Scientific Reports, is the first to evaluate vitamin B’s effects on the body’s response to air pollution. Dirty air contributes to 3.7 million premature deaths globally per year.

"Ambient PM2.5 pollution is one of the most common air pollutants and has a negative effect on cardiac function and the immune system," said Jia Zhong, PhD, the lead author on the study and a postdoctoral research officer in the department of environmental health sciences at Columbia's Mailman School, in a statement. "For the first time, our trial provides evidence that B-vitamin supplementation might attenuate the acute effects of PM2.5 on cardiac dysfunction and inflammatory markers."

Zhong’s study included ten healthy non-smokers aged 18 to 60 years old who were not taking any forms of vitamin B supplements or other medication. For the first four weeks of the study, they were given placebos. After that, they were given vitamin B supplements for another four weeks. The study was conducted from July 2013 to February 2014.

Results from the study showed that after taking vitamin B supplement for only four weeks, the effects of air pollution on heart rates were weakened by 150 percent, total white blood count by 139 percent and lymphocyte by 106 percent.

"Our results showed that a two-hour exposure to concentrated ambient PM2.5 had substantial physiologic impacts on heart rate, heart rate variability, and white blood counts. Further, we demonstrated that these effects are nearly reversed with four-week B-vitamin supplementation," said Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, chair and Leon Hess Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School, in a statement. "With ambient PM2.5 levels far exceeding air quality standards in many large urban areas worldwide, pollution regulation remains the backbone of public health protection against its cardiovascular health effects. Studies like ours cannot diminish—nor be used to underemphasize the urgent need to lower air pollution levels to—at a minimum—meet the air quality standards set forth in the United States and other countries. However, residual risk remains for those who are sensitive, and high exposures are, unfortunately, the rule still in many megacities throughout the world.”