A team from the University of California, Berkeley, has been trialing the vitamin supplements as a way for individuals to potentially guard themselves against long-term damage at a cellular level.
They found that three high doses of pills could “completely offset” damage caused by fine particle matter, known as PM2.5.
However, they are keen to stress that the study was very small-scale (with only ten people involved) and, although initial results are promising, the findings need much more stringent investigation. For example, follow-up studies in heavily polluted cities such as Beijing or Mexico City.
According to the World Health Organisation’s Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution database, more than 80% of people living in urban areas now live in areas that exceed daily limits of air pollution.
According to the latest urban air quality database, 98% of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. Although, in high-income countries, that percentage decreases to 56%.
So with the air crisis growing, the team was tasked with looking at options for individuals to take proactive measures to protect their health.
Professor Kirk R. Smith said: “The lack of individual-level preventative options represent a critical knowledge gap.”
Scientists have long known that PM2.5 particles, which are particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres – thirty times thinner than a human hair – are the most dangerous type of pollution.
They are caused by diesel cards and wood burning stoves, as a by-product of chemicals reacting with other gases, and are able to lodge themselves deep in the lungs.
This then induces DNA methylation changes, displayed in inflammation and oxidative stress, and are linked to long-term lung and heart health issues.
Participants in the study were required to take the B vitamins daily, and results showed that the tablets “prevented changes” in genes, normally induced by exposure to PM2.5.
These initial results, the team says, might be used as a way to compliment larger scale regulations to reduce the impact of air pollution on the epigenome.
The Huffington Post UK has reached out for expert comment on the findings and will update this article with relevant information.