Beat air pollution with food

Big city air pollution is a killer, so defend yourself

If you work in a city, you don’t need to be told that air pollution is bad for your eyes – but it is also one of the world’s biggest killers.

Air pollution causes more than 5 million premature deaths a year worldwide, an estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the UK – and almost 10,000 in London alone. Of course, if you live or work other cities like Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Birmingham, you are also at risk.

The main culprit and most dangerous form is “ambient fine particulate pollution”, largely caused by diesel fumes. These particles, called PM2.5, are extremely small – about 2.5 microns across. In comparison, a human hair is about 80 microns across. Therefore, the particles are small enough to enter the lungs and bloodstream. The toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a ‘companion killer’.

When they reach the heart, lungs and brain, these two toxins can cause chronic inflammation – which can lead to a cardiac arrest, lung cancer, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or stroke.

Worse still, the particles can impair the immune system and make you more susceptible to infections generally. And of course worsen asthma symptoms.

Studies from the USA show that living in a polluted city is associated with a 27% increase in cardiovascular death, an almost 75% increase in the risk of a heart attack, and a 28% increase in lung cancer death – compared with living in a clean air area.

The premature death figures are shocking enough, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. For every person who dies early from air pollution, many more are made ill or hospitalised.

So how can you defend yourself?

The good news

Although there are moves to reduce diesel engine use in cities, this invisible and insidious problem is not going to go away anytime soon.

However, a recent report from New York’s Columbia University found that:

  • Taking B vitamins “nearly abolished” the harmful effect of PM2.5 particles, and
  • The damaging effects of air pollution on health “are nearly reversed with four-week B-vitamin supplementation.”

The Columbia New York study

The Columbia University researchers first took healthy, non-smoking adults between 18 and 60 years of age, who lived in ‘lightly polluted urban areas’. None were taking any form of B vitamin supplements.

First, they measured heart rates, their heart rate variability (the time between heart beats) and white blood cell counts (a marker of immune status).

Results of exposure to PM2.5 pollution

They gave the subjects a placebo for four weeks. Then they exposed them for two hours to concentrated PM2.5 pollution.

They tested the subjects again and found that all their heart and immune markers had worsened. Their heart rate had increased – meaning that their hearts had to work harder. Their white blood cell count had increased by an average of 11.5%, which meant their immune systems were sensing a pathogenic attack such as an infection.

Worryingly, their heart rate variability had fallen by an average of 57%, which is a sign of blood pressure swings and that the body is under significant internal or external stress.

Results with vitamin B supplementation

The subjects were then given four-weeks of vitamin B supplements. The participants took 50 mg of vitamin B6, 2.5 mg of folic acid (vitamin B9), and 1 mg of vitamin B12 daily.

They were again exposed to PM2.5 pollution. This time, the pollution toxins had almost no effect.

Great – but why?

Why B vitamins are so effective

B vitamins are among the first vitamins depleted under stress when toxins are present.  B vitamins are important in the creation of the body’s detoxifying enzymes, which not only work in our liver, but in the lining of our airways.

B12 is a particularly powerful detoxifying nutrient – indeed a study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine found that high dose vitamin B12 can even be effective in cyanide detoxification!

However, the amounts of B vitamins used in the Columbia study were very high. For example, the level of B6 used was over 30 times the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) and that of B12 was over 350 times the RDA!

Although the Food and Nutrition Board at the US Institute of Medicine has not recorded any adverse effects linked to excess amounts of vitamin B12, it is true that vitamin B12 can interact with certain medications. So it would be important to consult your doctor before you take such a high-dose vitamin B complex supplement.

In principle, mega doses of any single nutrient are not desirable as the body uses a wide variety of nutrients that need to be balanced to get an overall synergistic health effect. The Columbia regime also did not include vitamin B2, which is rather odd as this vitamin is known to be important in the detoxification process.

But comprehensive supplementation may be even better

Although the Columbia University results are impressive, there is another way to combat pollution with supplements that does not involve mega doses, as the B vitamins are not the only nutrients that are important in the detoxification process.

Vitamin C, for example, is a vital nutrient in helping the liver to break down and rid the body of toxins. A level of 500mg a day is optimum. The body absorbs what it needs and will excrete the excess – so any higher levels are generally wasteful.

Minerals are also important in detoxification – especially magnesium.

Supporting the lymphatic system also has a role. It is part of your circulatory system and a key part of the immune system.

The lymphatic system comprises a network of vessels that carry a clear fluid, called lymph, around the body. Lymph then transports toxic by-products from the lungs, liver and kidneys for eventual elimination.

Vitamins that support the lymphatic system include beta carotene (which converts to vitamin A as needed), vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B6.

Finally, a supplement that gives specific support to the immune system would give even further protection. It should include vitamins A and  D3, curcumin, selenium, zinc and green tea extract.

The broccoli studies

Extensive research has shown that broccoli can not only boost the activity of the detoxification enzymes in the liver, but act as a cancer fighter.

The University of California Los Angeles study

Results of broccoli on smokers

Researchers at UCLA fed some smokers a large portion of broccoli every day for ten days to determine if it would affect the level of inflammation within their bodies. They chose smokers because, of course, smoking is highly inflammatory.

After the 10 days, they tested the blood of the smokers and found that levels of an important inflammatory marker, called C-Reactive protein, were reduced.

So the broccoli did reduce inflammation. But how?

To find out, the researchers took lung lining cells from the smokers and exposed them to broccoli extract in a petri dish. The cells showed a more than 100 times increase in detox-enzyme expression, compared to a non-cruciferous vegetable extract.

So the broccoli had been responsible for ‘turning on’ genes that were anti-inflammatory.

Results of broccoli on diesel fume exposure

Next, the UCLA researchers exposed two sets of volunteers (non-broccoli-eaters and broccoli-eaters) to a level of diesel fumes equal to the daily rush-hour levels on the Los Angeles freeway.

Within six hours, the number of inflammatory cells in the noses of the control group rose very significantly, and continued to rise. But inflammation levels in the group that received the “broccoli sprout extract,” went down and remained low.

Since the dose in these studies is equivalent to the consumption of just one or two servings of broccoli a day, they concluded that:

“… their study demonstrates the potential preventive and therapeutic potential of broccoli.”

For good measure, some Chinese researchers – where they have some of the worst air pollution in the world – were able to show that consuming broccoli sprouts resulted in the ability to detoxify 60% more benzene from the body than a control.  Benzene is a known human carcinogen.

What should you do to defend against the effects of air pollution?

If you live in a city, it is definitely worth increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables (eg. kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spring greens) and broccoli in particular. And up your intake of fruits like blackcurrants, raspberries and blueberries that contain high levels of protective flavonoids.

Consider a comprehensive health food supplement to boost your overall ability to counteract air pollution.

The supplement should have well above RDAs of B vitamins, but also include a balanced range of other nutrients at optimum levels that also support the lymphatic system and immune system. NutriShield is a very broad range supplement that was formulated to do that – and indeed more. See



If you enjoyed this article, please share it with family and friends. You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter for daily headline health tweets.

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Youtube

CTA Register NewsletterAnd register now for a free monthly e-newsletter on the latest in nutrition and health research.

Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive healthbutton-2 supplement with OPTIMUM levels of essential nutrients. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the button.

Dr Paul Clayton’s best-selling book Health Defence is available from most good bookstores.

Or read chapters here FREE simply by registering your email address.

See online here for delicious recipes from the Health Defence Cookbook incorporating healthy foods featuring in a Mediterranean Diet. Combined 3 courses strip



Riso P, Vendrame S, Del Bo’ C, Martini D, Martinetti A, Seregni E, Visioli F, Parolini M, Porrini M. Effect of 10-day broccoli consumption on inflammatory status of young healthy smokers. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2014 Feb;65(1):106-11.

Heber D, Li Z, Garcia-Lloret M, Wong AM, Lee TY, Thames G, Krak M, Zhang Y, Nel A. Sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprout extract attenuates nasal allergic response to diesel exhaust particles. Food Funct. 2014 Jan;5(1):35-41.

Zhang X, Shu XO, Xiang YB, Yang G, Li H, Gao J, Cai H, Gao YT, Zheng W. Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jul;94(1):240-6.

Jiang Y, Wu SH, Shu XO, Xiang YB, Ji BT, Milne GL, Cai Q, Zhang X, Gao YT, Zheng W, Yang G. Cruciferous vegetable intake is inversely correlated with circulating levels of pro-inflammatory markers in women. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014 May;114(5):700-8.e2.

Egner PA, Chen JG, Zarth AT, Ng DK, Wang JB, Kensler KH, Jacobson LP, Muñoz A, Johnson JL, Groopman JD, Fahey JW, Talalay P, Zhu J, Chen TY, Qian GS, Carmella SG, Hecht SS, Kensler TW. Rapid and sustainable detoxication of airborne pollutants by broccoli sprout beverage: results of a randomized clinical trial in China. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014 Aug;7(8):813-23.

Laden F, Schwartz J, Speizer FE, Dockery DW. Reduction in fine particulate air pollution and mortality: Extended follow-up of the Harvard Six Cities study. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2006 Mar 15;173(6):667-72.

Tracy RP, Psaty BM, Macy E, Bovill EG, Cushman M, Cornell ES, Kuller LH. Lifetime smoking exposure affects the association of C-reactive protein with cardiovascular disease risk factors and subclinical disease in healthy elderly subjects. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 1997 Oct;17(10):2167-76.


Top 7 anti-inflammatory foods

Nutrients which reduce chronic inflammation

The biggest single risk to your long term health is what’s called ‘chronic sub-clinical inflammation’. It’s a continuous, damaging level of inflammation of body tissues that tends to build up as we age, but is normally not noticeable. So it’s an insidious, but major threat.

How major? VERY major!

“Inflammation is an underlying contributor to virtually every chronic disease … along with major killers such as heart disease, cancer and stroke.”

Scientific American

“Inflammatory factors predict virtually all bad outcomes in humans … having heart attacks, having heart failure, becoming diabetic … becoming fragile in old age … cognitive function decline, even cancer to a certain extent.”

Russell Tracy, Professor of Pathology and Biochemistry, University of Vermont College of Medicine

“… we can now seriously start thinking about inflammation as a potential driver of accelerated ageing and how we might be able to delay it.”

Institutes for Ageing and Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University

Chronic versus acute inflammation

We are normally familiar with inflammation as the sign of a good immune response. We suffer a cut or sting and the area becomes inflamed – which is a sign that your immune system is working to bring healing white blood cells like neutrophils and macrophages to cure the problem.

But that type of inflammation is called acute inflammation. The cause and the cure are both short term.

The problem arises when damage occurs within your body’s tissues, but that damage is not completely cleared by the immune response. That sets up a low level of continuous, long term chronic inflammation that damages cells and tissues.

This type of inflammation is a key driver of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, erectile dysfunction and indeed any diseases ending in  ‘itis’ – which means inflammatory.  So arthritis, colitis, sinusitis and many, many, more.

It also creates an environment that more easily allows the spread of cancerous cells.

Top 7 Anti-inflammatory foods

Therefore lowering the level of inflammation is a vital contribution to your long term health. So make sure the following feature regularly in your diet:

  1. Salmon (or other oily fish)

    Salmon contains Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that people who have a higher intake of Omega 3 suffer fewer heart problems because Omega 3 reduces inflammation and helps lower cholesterol . The American Heart Association suggests you eat oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring at least 2-3 times a week.

  2. Broccoli

    Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, part of a group including cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. They are high in a plant compound called glucosinolates, which are powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Population studies show that eating a diet high in cruciferous vegetables is linked to a lower risk of cancer.

  3. Blueberries

    Blueberries contain significant amounts of polyphenols and carotenoids.It is the polyphenol and carotenoid content of plant foods, not just their vitamins and minerals, which makes fruits and vegetables so valuable to your health.

    Carotenoids are largely concentrated in the skin and colouring of fruits like blueberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and strawberries – and they and polyphenols have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which researchers strongly believe helps prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.

    The carotenoids lutein and lycopene are known to prevent and repair the DNA and cellular damage done by free radicals – which, unchecked, can trigger cancer.

  4. Kale

    Kale is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. Kale, like broccoli, contains glucosinolates, plus the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids have been shown to protect vision and lower your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. A similar anti-inflammatory superfood is spinach. It too contains lutein, vitamin K2 (which is heart healthy), folic acid, and beta carotene. Research shows that people who eat a largely plant based diet, including these leafy green vegetables, have a significantly reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

  5. Carrots and sweet potatoes

    Carrots of course contain the carotenoid beta-carotene which your body can convert to vitamin A as needed. Carrots also contain other carotenoids (zeaxanthin and lutein), and these antioxidants help reduce your risk of cancer by shielding your healthy cells from free radical damage. They are also a good source of fibre.

    Sweet potatoes, like other orange-coloured vegetables, are also high in vitamin A and beta-carotene antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. They are also high in fibre and high fibre consumption is linked to lower cancer risk.

  6. Almonds, walnuts and other nuts

    Nuts are very healthy, and you should try to incorporate a handful each day into your diet – either as a snack or on cereals. Eating almonds, walnuts, pecans and Brazils is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Walnuts are a great source of protein, vitamin E, minerals and phytochemicals called sterols. They also contain monounsaturated fatty acids (as does olive oil) and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

  7. Avocados

    Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, plus they’re a great source of magnesium, fibre, and potassium – all cardio-healthy nutrients.

The combination of the vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and polyphenols in these top 7 (ish) foods is the basis of a highly anti-inflammatory diet.

You really are – and will become – what you eat.

Reduce pro-inflammatory foods

But you must also aim to reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory foods in your diet.

Your body uses fatty acids from the food you eat to make the outer membranes of cells and also certain important hormones. Omega 6 fatty acids – found in polyunsaturated plant oils like safflower, sunflower and corn oil and in very many ready meals and processed foods  – are used by the body to produce hormones that promote inflammation.

Omega 3 fatty acids (from oily fish) have the opposite effect – they are used to produce hormones that reduce inflammation.

All this is why University College London recently joined the American Cancer Society in recommending 9-10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Plus the 2-3 portions of oily fish.

Of course it is rather a challenge for most people – so an anti-inflammatory nutritional supplement like NutriShield that includes a range of polyphenols, flavonoids and carotenoids plusOmega 3, as well as an optimised level of vitamins and minerals, can be a good choice to ‘fill in the gaps’.

If you want to read more about this topic you can download a free e-book called “Inflamm-ageing” below.


If you enjoyed this article, please share it with family and friends. You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter for daily headline health tweets.

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Youtube

CTA Register NewsletterAnd register now for a free monthly e-newsletter on the latest in nutrition and health research.

Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive healthbutton-2 supplement with OPTIMUM levels of essential nutrients. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the button.

Dr Paul Clayton’s best-selling book Health Defence is available from most good bookstores.

See the website for excerpts and links to buy direct from the publisher.

See online here for delicious recipes from the Health Defence Cookbook incorporating healthy foods featuring in a Mediterranean Diet. Combined 3 courses strip