Can Nutrition Negate the Damage of Air Pollution?
Air pollution is well known to have deleterious consequences on our health. Efforts to negate that impact has largely been focused on limiting the pollution to begin with (an obvious but not easy solution) and possible wearing masks to filter the fine particulates. That is about it, but now B vitamins (at high doses) have been proposed to be a nutritional intervention. B Vitamins Epigenetics and Air Pollution Of note this therapy was directed to correcting a corruption of the genetic software, the science of "epigenetics", which determines how a cell behaves through its ability to turn genes on/off. Small molecules (methyl) donated from B vitamins (and other sources) act as switches for our genetic software.
In essence this is a landmark study because it is still early days in the science of epigenetics to show how nutrition can correct problems with a core epigenetic problem (although my first foray was in 1991 with soy isoflavones in gut inflammation). Air pollution is not just about lung health or short term local complications. For example recently the risk for developing serious cognitive decline as you age was shown be related to the proximity of your dwelling and traffic Living near traffic raises risk for dementia - The closer to traffic and car pollution the more likely you are to develop dementia. Note if your drive a taxi please keep tabs on these nutritional interventions.
So what is causing this epigenetic dysfunction? Well there are direct effects of the constituents of pollution itself and there are also the sequelae of pollution. The latter is inherently a low level inflammation, which can spread the consequences throughout the body. Chronic inflammation, that is inflammation that fails to resolve and terminate, is an epigenetic issue. So inflammation in response to repeat stimulation from exposure to pollution can establish a self sustaining epigenetic problem that would persist even if the pollution was avoided.
Particulate matter is also capable of forming a biofilm in which bacteria multiple and cause havoc. Bacteria love these biofilms just like a fertilized field promotes crops. The immune response to the bacteria then contributes to the systemic inflammation.
Then again we there are the gases in pollution; that brown smog is made up of reactive nitrogen oxides - NO2 and N2O3 specifically. These gases can disrupt cell membranes with direct free radical damage (rendering them rancid) as well nitrosating and nitrating amines e.g., to form nitrosamines which are carcinogenic, and disrupt receptors and transmembrane channels that determine cell decision making.
These toxic effects of nitrogen oxides would not be corrected by B vitamins, so do not think that single approach will correct all aspects to the tissue responses. Because these toxic nitrogen oxides are more soluble in fats/lipids they would need a chemical deterrent/antioxidant that is lipid soluble to take the battle to them. For membranes free radical fighter the very best is astaxanthin (it is the carotenoid that makes salmon pink).
All in all, the ramifications of air pollution are diverse and extend from the short term to a chronic derangement of tissue function and even cancer. While traditional free radical scavenging approaches like astaxanthin can negate some of the lipid based problems, research as now suggested that high dose B vitamins correct corruption of your genetic software.
So who loves to be rancid and have a corrupted genetic software? Don't see a lot hands raised, as expected. Now with scientific advances, we can devise nutritional strategies to maintain health despite environmental stressors.