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Your Environment. Your Health.

B Vitamins May Protect Against Epigenetic Effects of Air Pollution

Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D.
Columbia University
R21ES021895, R01ES015172, R01ES021733, R01ES020836, R01ES021357, P30ES000002

Taking B vitamins may help lessen the effects of fine particles, a common air pollutant, according to a new study published by NIEHS-funded researchers. The team demonstrated that B vitamin supplements prevented epigenetic changes, which affect the function of DNA without altering the original sequence of amino acids.

Ten healthy adult volunteers were exposed to clean air and given a placebo to check baseline responses. They were then given a placebo for 4 weeks and exposed for 2 hours to air containing particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5). The experiment was repeated in the same individuals, with each volunteer taking a daily B vitamin supplement for 4 weeks before another exposure to PM2.5.

Without supplementation, researchers found that PM2.5 induced epigenetic changes in genes involved in inflammation and metabolism. According to the authors, B vitamin supplementation almost completely prevented these changes.

This pilot intervention trial highlights how vitamin B supplementation may reduce the adverse effects of PM2.5. It also provides insight into the role of epigenetic modifications associated with the health effects of air pollution.

Citation: Zhong J, Karlsson O, Wang G, Li J, Guo Y, Lin X, Zemplenyi M, Sanchez-Guerra M, Trevisi L, Urch B, Speck M, Liang L, Coull BA, Koutrakis P, Silverman F, Gold DR, Wu T, Baccarelli AA. 2017. B vitamins attenuate the epigenetic effects of ambient fine particles in a pilot human intervention trial. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 114(13):3503–3508.