Air pollution: food supplements protecting the body

air pollution food supplements body

Vitamin and fatty acid supplements have shown their interest in preventing damages induced from pollution.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), 92% of the world’s population will live in areas without meeting the air pollution limits set by the WHO. Fine particulate matter pollution PM2.5 (diameter less than 2.5 µm) raises health problems as these pollutants drop into the airways, where they can cause inflammation. Exposure to pollutants is associated with higher rates of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and mortality, especially in the city. Despite the policies aimed at reducing air pollution, pollution peaks are frequently recorded.

But it may be interesting to consider taking some nutritional supplements to protect ourselves.

Group B vitamins

Air pollution acts on our genes. Specifically, it can alter DNA by an epigenetic mechanism, such as DNA methylation. These epigenetic modifications do not change the DNA sequence itself but are involved in important health phenomena, such as oxidative stress and inflammation.

In an article published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States), international researchers wanted to know whether vitamin B supplements could prevent the harmful effects of PM2.5 particles. B vitamins (including B6, B12 and folate) are cofactors in methylation reactions.

For this, the researchers gave either a placebo or a supplement of vitamin B (2.5 mg folic acid, 50 mg of vitamin B6 and 1 mg of vitamin B12) each day to the volunteers of the clinical trial. 10 of the volunteers were healthy people who did not smoke and were aged 18-60. PM2.5 particles were issued to the participants at a concentration of 250 µg/m3, using a mask. The study showed the epigenetic effect of air pollution: the fine particles induced changes (methylations) in genes implicated in the energetic metabolism of mitochondria (the energy plants of the cells).

The results also suggest that B vitamins could be used to prevent and mitigate the effects of air pollution on the epigenome because complementation prevented epigenetic changes.

Vitamins C and E

These two vitamins are antioxidants. In one study, the effects of vitamin C (500 mg/d) and vitamin E (800 mg/d) supplements were studied for 6 months among individuals exposed directly or indirectly to particulate emissions from a coal-fired power plant. Compared to the control group, those who received the vitamins saw the markers of oxidative damage drop and the levels of the antioxidant and nonenzymatic enzymes increase (glutathione, sulphur proteins, catalase, enzymes to glutathione).


In a controlled randomized trial, the effect of omega-3 (2 g fish oil/day) or placebo on the cardiovascular response to fine particulate matter was evaluated among institutionalized elderly people. Results: omega-3 fish oil warned of the negative impact of PM2.5 on cardiac variability, a marker of cardiovascular risk.

In another study, omega-3 (2 grams per day) increased the activity of an antioxidant enzyme, SOD (superoxide dismutase), 49% and the level of glutathione (main cell detoxifying) by 62%. Fat oxidation decreased by 72%. Thus, omega-3 appears to modulate the oxidative stress induced by PM2.5 particles by increasing the activity of the body’s antioxidants.


Péter S, Holguin F, Wood LG, Clougherty JE, Raederstorff D, Antal M, Weber P, Eggersdorfer M. Nutritional Solutions to Reduce Risks of Negative Health Impacts of Air Pollution. Nutrients. 2015 Dec 10;7(12):10398-416. doi: 10.3390/nu7125539.


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