There’s no question that our society has greatly benefited from certain aspects of modern technology.
Everything from indoor plumbing to modern refrigeration techniques has improved our health and standard of living. Unfortunately, there is a definite trade-off to be made for such advances, often in the form of increased environmental pollution.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), fine particulate matter (less than 2.5 μm in size, or PM2.5), which often is a result of fuel combustion, carries the greatest health risks for humans for a variety of cardiovascular diseases.1
Obviously, both you and your health-conscious patients have grave concerns about the effects of air pollution on your health. An interesting article has compelling evidence that taking vitamin B supplements can help mitigate the damaging effects of PM2.5 air pollution on certain cardiovascular diseases.
Health effects of air pollution
According to WHO, PM2.5 air pollution has been associated with a number of chronic and acute diseases, most of which are cardiopulmonary in nature. Such diseases include lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and stroke.1 WHO also estimates that PM2.5 air pollution causes about 25 percent of deaths throughout the world that are due to lung cancer, 8 percent of those due to COPD, and 15 percent of those due to stroke.
It should not be surprising that industrialized, urban cities have higher levels of PM2.5 air pollution than rural areas, but what interesting is that urban areas with the highest PM2.5 levels are all in less-developed areas of the world, such as Africa and Asia.
WHO found that approximately 90 percent of the global population living in urban areas is exposed to pollution levels above WHO guidelines of an annual mean of 10 μg/m3 PM2.5. Furthermore, the Eastern Mediterranean, including the world’s major oil-producing countries, had the highest overall levels of PM2.5 air pollution.2,3
What does the research say?
A study published first in the online edition of Scientific Reports examined the ability of vitamin B supplementation to mitigate certain cardiovascular diseases following exposure to PM2.5 pollution.4 The researchers selected a group of 10 healthy, nonsmokers to undergo two-hour 250 μg/m3 of PM2.5 pollution exposures, following four weeks of consecutive placebo and then vitamin B complex (2.5 mg/d folic acid, 50 mg/d vitamin B6, and 1 mg/d vitamin B12) treatments.
A sham pollution exposure was also included to get a baseline measurement. Heart rate, heart rate variability, and white blood cell count were measured before, immediately after, and 24 hours after each exposure.4
The researchers found that heart rate, heart rate variability, and white blood cell count all increased following the PM2.5 exposure condition in which subjects did not take the vitamin B complex before exposure.4 Under the condition in which subjects took the vitamin B prior to exposure, the negative health effects of PM2.5 on heart rate were reduced by 150 percent, on the low-frequency power of heart rate variability by 90 percent, and on total white blood count by 139 percent.
The researchers did note that their study was done in a region with low PM2.5 air pollution levels, so a follow-up study in a region with high levels is warranted to determine if vitamin B complex would have the same effects under those conditions.
Nevertheless, their research does present some intriguing possibilities to help your patients combat some of the negative effects of our current modern industrialized society.
- Global Health Observatory (GHO) data: Ambient air pollution. World Health Organization. Accessed 5/23/2017.
- Global Health Observatory (GHO) data: Concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5μm). World Health Organization. Accessed 5/23/2017.
- Global Health Observatory (GHO) data: Exposure to ambient air pollution. World Health Organization. Accessed 5/23/2017.
- Zhong J, Trevisi L, Urch, B, et al. B-vitamin supplementation mitigates effects of fine particles on cardiac autonomic dysfunction and inflammation: A pilot human intervention trial. Scientific Reports April 3, 2017 (online).