Vitamin B and Polluted Air

Vitamin B and Polluted Air

When Phil Collins sang that he could feel it in the air tonight, he wasn’t talking about pollution. Pollution is silent and can be deadly – we can’t feel it or hear it, and most of the time we can’t taste it, smell it, or see it.

It’s only when things get really bad, such as when smog descends and envelops us, that we are consciously aware of what is going into our lungs, and the scariest thing of all is that there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it. We need to breathe.

What is Pollution?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, pollution is “the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects.”

Air pollution is by far the most dangerous form of pollution – far more than that of land or water. After all, we breathe around 23,000 times a day while at rest, more so if we are exercising – that equates to a lot of pollution going into our respiratory systems,[1] resulting in illnesses such as Asthma, COPD and Lung Cancer.

Pollution is caused by many things – chimneys from power plants spew out chemicals, carbon dioxide and other harmful compounds into the air. Cleaning products, paint, insecticides and air fresheners all pollute the air, and yet we use them every day, sometimes – in the case of air fresheners or aerosol deodorants, for example – in an unventilated room, allowing concentrated amounts to go directly into our lungs. But the biggest contributor to air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are used every day and everywhere, and we don’t really even think about it. But if you use any form of transport other than a pied, or on foot, you are burning fossil fuel and causing pollution. Cars, trains, ships, lorries and ‘planes are all huge contributors and yet we have come to rely on them, not only for getting around ourselves but also for transporting goods.

The fumes from a car’s exhaust, for example, pollute the air in two ways, both by emitting carbon dioxide, carbon and nitrogen, and also by reacting with environmental gases to cause further poisons.[2]

It is the pollution which comes from engine fumes, wood burning, and power plants which are of particular concern. When any of these processes take place, tiny, fine particles are released which make their way into our respiratory systems. These particles are called PM2.5. The PM is the abbreviation for Particulate Matter, and the 2.5 refers to the size of the particles – 2.5 micrometres or smaller. When you take into consideration that one single grain of fine sand is approximately 90 micrometres, you begin to see how tiny these particles really are.[3]

How Bad is Pollution Worldwide?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines state that cities should have 10micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre of air, at most. Frightening, then, to learn that most cities are way above that. For instance, Iran’s Zabol is the world’s most polluted city, with a staggering 217micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre. In fact, Asia dominates the table, with the top seven most polluted cities sharing the continent.[4]

Looking at countries as a whole, according to the WHO, Pakistan fares the worst, with the average PM2.5 concentration sitting at 115.7. Australia, again taking the country as a whole, has the lowest concentration, at just 5.7. Estonia is Europe’s least polluted country with a rate of 7.2. The UK is no. 21 on the list, out of 92 countries tested. However, things are getting worse in the UK. In January 2017, levels of PM2.5 in London reached a staggering and quite literally breath-taking 197, out-polluting Beijing for the first time ever.[5]

Vitamin B Complex and Air Pollution

As depressing as these figures are, there is hope. A study was conducted in the US to examine the effects of a Vitamin B Complex on PM2.5. Ten volunteers, aged between 18 and 60, were given a placebo and exposed to unpolluted air. They were then asked to inhale high concentrations of smog. This gave the researchers a baseline to work from. Volunteers were then, later on, given a four week supply of folic acid (B9), B6 and B12 to take daily, after which they were asked to inhale dangerous levels of polluted air (PM2.5 >250micrograms).

Scientists found that the effects of PM2.5 were reduced, at ten different gene locations, by between 28% and 76%.[6,7]

What is Vitamin B?

Vitamin B, or rather the B Vitamins, help our bodies to run smoothly. There are, in fact, eight B Vitamins, and they make up a large percentage of the 13 vitamins our bodies need.

B Vitamins are water soluble, and they can’t be stored in the body, so we need to ensure a daily supply of all eight to keep ourselves healthy. B Vitamins are found naturally in food, but the easiest way to make sure we are keeping up our levels is to take a Vitamin B Complex – a supplement containing all eight of the B Vitamins. Each one has its own role to play.

  • B1 (Thiamin) converts glucose into energy, and also plays its part in the function of the nerves.
  • B2 (Riboflavin) is responsible for energy, vision and skin
  • B3 (Niacin) converts fat and carbohydrates into energy
  • B5 (Pantothenic Acid) supports the role of B3 and also produces red blood cells and certain hormones.
  • B6 (Pyridoxine) works on brain development.
  • B7 (Biotin) deals with energy and fat.
  • B9 (Folic Acid) forms red blood cells
  • B12 (cyanocobalamin) is responsible for the myelin which protects the nerves.

The B Vitamins work together to convert food into energy, as well as looking after the central nervous system, liver, eyes, skin and brain.[8]

The power of B Vitamins has been known for over a century. In the early 1900s, Casimir Funk discovered Vitamin B1, and the rest, as they say, is history. (It was also Funk who originally coined the phrase ‘Vital Amine’ to classify the chemicals he and his team were studying, and it wasn’t until 1920 that it was simplified to ‘vitamin’.[9] )


There are many things we can all do individually to reduce our own contribution to the pollution levels around us, but ultimately it is going to take action on a much larger scale to avoid ‘airmeggedon’. But, by taking a Vitamin B Complex daily and making little changes to our lifestyles, we can go a long way towards fighting the effects of air pollution.


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