Could you have a pollution-triggered heart attack?

Air pollution…

You may know that you’re exposed to it to varying degrees, particularly if you live in an urban area.

But one incredible and tragic thing you may not know is that air pollution kills 3.7 million people prematurely every single year.

That’s right, in many areas concentrations of ambient air pollutants exceed recommended “healthy” levels.

So when you’re doing your regular activities, you may be inhaling fine particles of pollutants — known as ambient particulate matter. And it’s these very particles that can do some major damage…

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In a recent study in non-smoking healthy individuals, researchers exposed them to concentrated ambient particulate matter for two hours. The result was a decrease in heart rate variability, along with increased lymphocyte and white blood cell levels.

Increases in white blood cell and lymphocyte levels are signs of increased inflammation in the body, which means the immune system is rapidly activated to fight the incoming stimulus. Decreased heart rate variability is a sign of autonomic nervous system dysfunction — the part of the nervous system that controls the cardiovascular system.

Quite surprisingly, these inhaled particles have acute effects on the cardiovascular system. And that’s how people are dying prematurely — from a pollution-triggered heart attack!

But the good news is, these researchers also discovered a simple thing that provides protection…

B vitamins protect against a pollution-triggered heart attack

In the same study, individuals who were exposed to the same amount of pollution but were given B vitamin supplements for four weeks afterwards, were able to almost completely reverse the pollution damage caused to their immune and cardiovascular systems.

In fact, B vitamin supplementation appeared to show incredible opposition…

  • A 150% reduction in the particulate matter’s effects on heart rate
  • A 139% reduced effect on white blood cell count
  • And a 106% reduced effect on lymphocyte count

The researchers note however, that although these results are astounding, they may not be so prominent for those with existing cardiovascular issues or for those living in heavily polluted areas.

They will be conducting more research but in the meantime, it certainly can’t hurt to take B vitamins.

B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins involved in keeping your body running like a well-oiled machine. There are eight different B vitamins and they all play different roles from energy production, to skin health, to healthy immune and cardiovascular function.

Though many supplements come in a B complex, the individuals in this study took 2.5 mg per day of folic acid, 50 mg per day of vitamin B6, and 1 mg per day of vitamin B12.

Related: The diet that undoes the way pollution harms your heart

B vitamins can also be obtained from a wide variety of food sources:

  • B1 (thiamine) – lentils, green peas, spinach, pecans, pork, and eggs.
  • B2 (riboflavin) – milk, cheese, eggs, almonds, salmon, chicken, and beef.
  • B3 (niacin) – chicken, tuna, turkey, salmon, and beef.
  • B5 (pantothenic acid) – beef liver, sunflower seeds, fish, plain yogurt, and avocado
  • B6 – salmon, potato, turkey, avocado, chicken, spinach, and banana.
  • B7 (biotin) – yeast, eggs, cheese, liver, pork, salmon, raspberries, and cauliflower.
  • B9 (folic acid) – asparagus, spinach, lentils, and chickpeas.
  • B12 – clams, mackerel, crab, beef, salmon, milk, turkey, egg, and chicken.

If you want to avoid sucking in those harmful air particles, it’s a good idea to avoid exercising outdoors, especially at peak pollution times.

But you’re not exactly safe inside either…

The particles are so small they can even invade your home — one thing that can help is installing an indoor air filter.

And of course, if you live in an urban or polluted area, take those B vitamins —they may just save your life!

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  1. Zhong J, et al. B-vitamin Supplementation Mitigates Effects of Fine Particles on Cardiac Autonomic Dysfunction and Inflammation: A Pilot Human Intervention Trial. — Sci Rep. 2017;3(7):45322.
  2. Vitamin B diminishes effects of air pollution-induced cardiovascular disease — (2017). Retrieved 23 April, 2017
  3. Vitamins — (2014). Linus Pauling Institute. Retrieved 13 April, 2017
Jedha Dening

By Jedha Dening

Jedha Dening is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site Diabetes Meal Plans. Her masters thesis on nutrition and inflammation was published and then presented at a national scientific conference. She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about delving into the latest research to share the myths and truths surrounding nutrition and health. She believes when armed with the right knowledge, we’re empowered to make informed choices that can truly make a difference.