Benefits of the B vitamins
B vitamins may offer some protection against the impacts of air pollution, a small-scale human trial suggests. Researchers found that high doses of these supplements may “completely offset” the damage caused by very fine particulate matter.
The scientists involved say the effect is real but stress the limitations of their work. Follow-up studies are urgently needed, they say, in heavily polluted cities like Beijing or Mexico.
While the impacts of air pollution on health have become a cause of growing concern to people all around the world, the actual mechanics of exactly how dirty air makes people sick are not clearly understood. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 90% of the world’s population live in areas where air pollution exceeds safety guidelines.
The B vitamin family is made up of eight B vitamins. Although they are commonly recognized as a group and often work together in the body, each of the B vitamins performs unique and important functions. To help you better understand the roles of each of the B vitamins, we have put together a friendly guide to introduce you to each member of this important family of vitamins.
The B vitamins are:
– B1 (thiamine)
– B2 (riboflavin)
– B3 (niacin)
– B5 (pantothenic acid)
– B7 (biotin)
– Folic acid
Also known as vitamin B1, thiamin is needed to help produce cellular energy from the foods you eat, and also supports normal nervous system function. Thiamin is found in a wide variety of foods, with some of the best sources coming from lentils, whole grains, and pork. Thiamin can also be found in red meats, yeast, nuts, sunflower seeds, peas, milk, cauliflower, spinach, and legumes.
Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin supports cellular energy production. Riboflavin is found in a variety of foods such as fortified cereals, milk, eggs, salmon, beef, spinach, and broccoli.
Niacin is also known as vitamin B3 and supports cellular energy production. Niacin, in the form of nicotinic acid, helps support cardiovascular health. Good sources of niacin include beef, poultry, and fish as well as whole wheat bread, peanuts and lentils.
Pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, is widely available in plant and animal food sources and helps support cellular energy production in the body. Rich sources include organ meats (liver, kidney), egg yolk, whole grains, avocados, cashew nuts, peanuts, lentils, soybeans, brown rice, broccoli, and milk.
Involved in over 100 cellular reactions throughout the body, vitamin B6 is instrumental in keeping various bodily functions operating at their best. Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is needed to metabolize amino acids and glycogen (the body’s storage form of glucose) and is also necessary for normal nervous system function and red blood cell formation.
Vitamin B6 is fairly abundant in the diet and can be found in foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, bananas, fish, fortified cereal grains and cooked spinach.
Biotin, or vitamin B7, is commonly found in foods such as brewer’s yeast, strawberries, organ meat, cheese, and soybeans. For those who are biotin deficient, studies show that biotin may help support healthy hair, skin, and nails. Biotin also supports carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism.
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, plays a critical role in the pathways of the body that produce cellular energy. It is also needed for DNA synthesis, proper red blood cell formation and for normal nervous system function. Individuals who follow vegan or vegetarian diets may benefit from a B12 supplement since B12 is predominantly found in foods of animal origin such as chicken, beef, fish, milk and eggs.
Also known as vitamin B9, folic acid is most commonly known for its role in fetal health and development as it plays a critical role in the proper development of the baby’s nervous system. This important developmental process occurs during the initial weeks of pregnancy, and so adequate folic acid intake is especially important for all women of child-bearing age. Adequate folic acid in healthful diets may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a neural tube defect. Fortified foods such as bread and cereals are good dietary sources of folic acid. Other good sources are dark green leafy vegetables such as asparagus and spinach as well as brewer’s yeast, liver, fortified orange juice, beets, dates, and avocados.
Pollution – a big health problem
One of the pollutants that are considered the most dangerous is very fine particulate matter, referred to as PM2.5, where particles have a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers. These complex particulates come from diesel cars, wood burning stoves and as a by-product of chemical reactions between other polluting gasses.
At around 1/30 the width of a human hair, PM2.5 fragments can lodge deep in the human lung and contribute to lung and heart health issues in the young and old. Scientists have long suspected that PM2.5 causes what are termed epigenetic changes in our cells that can damage our health.
The genes in our DNA contain the instructions for life, but epigenetics controls how those instructions are used – it’s like the relationship between a mp3 track and the volume control, you can only hear the musical notes (genes) when you dial up the volume (epigenetic changes).
A study shows that the very presence of environmental factors like air pollution seems to alter genes in the immune system at the epigenetic level – switching them on or off, and inhibiting our defenses. Researchers had already seen that nutrients could somehow stop this process in animal studies with the chemical Bisphenol A.
An international team of scientists wanted to see if exposure to concentrations of PM2.5 could be mitigated by a daily B vitamin supplement containing 2.5mg of folic acid, 50mg of vitamin B6, and 1mg of vitamin B12.
Ten volunteers were tested initially exposed to clean air while given a placebo to measure their basic responses. The same volunteers were later tested with large doses of B vitamins while exposed to air containing high levels of PM2.5.
The researchers found that a four-week B vitamin supplementation limited the PM2.5 effect by between 28-76% at ten gene locations. They found a similar reduction in impact on the mitochondrial DNA, the parts of cells that generate energy. Where we quantify the effect, it is almost close to a complete offset on the epigenome of the air pollution. On the mitochondrial DNA side, it also offset a big proportion of it.
However, the authors caution that their study, while observing a real effect, has many limitations. As well as the small number of participants, there was little information on the size of the B vitamin dose that elicited the response.
While we think it is great that doing something as easy as taking a B vitamin would help protect against air pollution harm, the public health goal still needs to be one of reducing air pollution to a level that is not harmful.
The authors acknowledge that this was a pilot study to test a hypothesis and they are not in a position to make any deductions about whether B vitamins could be used in clinical practice as a means of protecting against air pollution.
We think that B vitamins are a likely hope that we can potentially utilize as an individualized treatment to complement the policy regulations to minimize the impacts of air pollution.
These B vitamins help the process your body uses to get or make energy from the food you eat. They also help form red blood cells. You can get B vitamins from proteins such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Leafy green vegetables, beans, and peas also have B vitamins. Many bowls of cereal and some bread have added B vitamins.
Not getting enough of certain B vitamins can cause diseases. A lack of B12 or B6 can cause anemia. One easy way to make sure that you get your daily dose of these important B vitamins is to take a B vitamin complex supplement such as Nature Made Super B Energy Complex, which contains 100% of the Daily Value of all 8 B vitamins in one convenient soft gel.