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.

Beat air pollution with food NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

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.

Beat air pollution with food NutriShield Multi Vitamins and MineralsStudies 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.

Beat air pollution with food NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

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

Beat air pollution with food NutriShield Multi Vitamins and MineralsExtensive 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



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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.

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Vitamin D and lung disease

Dr Paul Clayton’s Health Newsletter Spring 2015

Breathing comes so naturally that much of the time we don’t even notice that we’re doing it – unless we get out of breath after heavy exertion. That pressured feeling soon passes, and breathing becomes invisible again.

But for some that feeling never goes, and the constant struggle for air experienced by sufferers of chronic obstructive lung (pulmonary) disease (COPD), who tend to be progressively more out of breath until they die, is harrowing. Inhaling oxygen-enriched air helps up to a point, but the main medical focus on COPD has always been on prevention; and as the main causes of COPD are tobacco and occupational exposure to toxins such as asbestos, this has fed into smoking cessation campaigns, safer working practices, and compensation claims which have provided surprisingly large sums of money for the legal profession (Guardian ’11). There has been very little that could be done to manage or improve COPD. Until now.

A randomised and placebo-controlled clinical trial was recently carried out at the Queen Mary University of London, looking at the effect of vitamin D supplementation on the severity and duration of COPD symptoms over a 12-month period (Martineau et al ’15). This was a large trial involving 240 patients, who were given either placebo or oral vitamin D3 at doses of 3 mg given once every 2 months throughout the year (1).

In the sub-group of patients who were D-deficient at the start of the trial, vitamin D significantly lowered the number and severity of flare-ups; the 40% reduction in the number of flare-ups was described by the trial authors as ‘dramatic’. D supplementation had no effects in the group who entered the trial with normal levels of the vitamin.

So how was vitamin D achieving these results? D is essential for immune function, and plays a role in increasing resistance to infection, but the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections did not change in this group.

Vitamin D has many other functions in the body, however, one of which is a role in reducing inflammation.

Low D status has been linked to many inflammatory diseases, and as vitamin D has potent anti-inflammatory effects, it consequently has been considered for adjunctive therapy for numerous chronic diseases including asthma (Searing et al ’10), arthritis (Plum et al ’10), prostate cancer (Krishnan et al ’10) and Type 1 diabetes (Mao et al ’14) and chronic inflammatory pain (Hirani ’12).

A good deal of research has investigated how D exerts its anti-inflammatory effects, and it appears to do so via many different mechanisms. D is known, for example, to enhance the function of regulatory T-suppressor cells, which dampen the activity of pro-inflammatory immune cells (Chambers & Hawrylowicz ’11). A recent paper revealed another part of this complex story. A Chinese research team (Zhang et al ’12) found that D also directly reduces the formation of pro-inflammatory cytokines by various white blood cells that are involved in driving chronic inflammation, including macrophages and monocytes.

As over a billion people are thought to be D-depleted, and as D is both cheap and safe, there is a strong case for giving D supplements to anyone with an inflammatory condition such as COPD – but the case for better nutrition does not stop there.

Retinoids such as vitamin A modulate and enhance the effects of vitamin D (Carlberg ’96), and they have direct anti-inflammatory effects of their own (Akdeniz et al ’05). In a clinical investigation carried out at the Helmholz Centre in Munich, vitamin A aerosols produced very significant improvements in lung function and quality of life in a patient with COPD (Frankenberg et al ’09). This was only a single patient, and I do not normally report on such experiments, but the very detailed biochemistry provided important insights into what was happening. The blood work showed that the vitamin A had a sufficiently strong anti-inflammatory effect to reduce the activity of a group of tissue-destructive enzymes called proteases. This not only stopped the lung damage from progressing, it also seemed to allow for repair/regeneration of a significant amount of lung tissue.

Regeneration of lung tissue is not classically thought to occur but I have long suspected that a degree of repair might be possible, given the right circumstances. The alveoli, where gas exchange takes place, are fragile and dynamic organelles, and are probably being constantly re-modelled, as indeed all other tissues are, from bone to liver, muscle, cartilege and skin. In a patient whose biochemistry is pro-inflammatory, due to factors such as smoking and/or poor nutrition, the net loss of alveoli will always outstrip any regenerative capacity. But if that person’s biochemistry can be amended to provide an anti-inflammatory and generally supportive environment, then healing should be able to predominate, as it can do after pneumonia. While extensive scarring and other major structural losses are probably irreparable, there seems no intrinsic reason why individual alveoli cannot be repaired or even regenerated.

Another consideration for any self-medicator with COPD is to add polyphenols to the mix. Not only do they enhance the effects of vitamin D (Dampf-Stone et al ’14), they also have strong anti-inflammatory effects of their own which they exert, inter alia, by blocking the effects of the proteases referred to above. Add high dose fish oil, and the insidious process of chronic inflammation that drives COPD would be, in my estimation and limited experience, suppressed thoroughly enough to provide the best possible chance of lung tissue regeneration.

(1) This looks like a large dose, equating to 150 times the Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI) of 800IU a day. Spread over 2 months, however, it is only 2.5 times RNI.


Abelaira Akdeniz N, Calka O, Ozbek H, Metin A. Anti-inflammatory effects of tretinoin (all-trans-retinoic acid) 0.1% and adapalene 0.1% in rats. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2005 Sep;30(5):570-2.

Carlberg C. The vitamin D(3) receptor in the context of the nuclear receptor superfamily : The central role of the retinoid X receptor. Endocrine. 1996 Apr;4(2):91-105

Chambers ES, Hawrylowicz CM. The impact of vitamin D on regulatory T cells. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2011 Feb;11(1):29-36.

Dampf-Stone A, Batie S, Sabir M, Jacobs ET, Lee JH, Whitfield GK, Haussler MR, Jurutka PW. Resveratrol Potentiates Vitamin D and Nuclear Receptor Signaling. J Cell Biochem. 2014 Dec 23. doi: 10.1002/jcb.25070. [Epub ahead of print] Neil Rose. Miners’ compensation: why did some solicitors take too big a slice of the pie? 8 March 2011 13.06 GMT

Hirani V. Vitamin D status and pain: analysis from the Health Survey for England among English adults aged 65 years and over. Br J Nutr 2012;107(07),1080-1084.

Krishnan AV, Feldman D. Molecular pathways mediating the anti-inflammatory effects of calcitriol: implications for prostate cancer chemoprevention and treatment. Endocr Relat Cancer. 2010;17:R19–38.

Mao L, Ji F, Liu Y, Zhang W, Ma X. Calcitriol plays a protective role in diabetic nephropathy through anti-inflammatory effects. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2014 Dec 15;7(12):5437-44

Martineau AR et al (20 authors).
Vitamin D3 supplementation in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (ViDiCO) Lancet Respiratory Medicine 2015;3(2),120-130

Plum LA, DeLuca HF. Vitamin D, disease and therapeutic opportunities. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2010;9:941–955.

Searing DA, et al. Decreased serum vitamin D levels in children with asthma are associated with increased corticosteroid use. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010;125:995–1000.

Zhang Y, et al. Vitamin D inhibits monocyte/macrophage pro-inflammatory cytokine production by targeting MAPK phosphatase-1. J Immunol. 2012 March 1;188(5):2127-35