Air Pollution

DSM paper highlights nutrition's role in combatting the negative health effects associated with air pollution

80 percent of the world’s population lives in regions with air pollution exceeding Air Quality Guidelines. Due to this exposure and the associated negative health impacts, researchers are exploring nutritional solutions like supplementation of fish oil, some B vitamins, vitamin E and C.

DSM’s paper on ‘Nutritional Solutions to Counter Health Impact of Air Pollution’ has been published in the International Journal of Food and Nutritional Science. Air pollution is a significant global environmental issue and exposure to major contaminants in the atmosphere, including fine particulate matter (with particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, otherwise known as PM2.5), has been associated with a number of serious health issues. These include increased cardiovascular mortality and the risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer, via oxidative stress and inflammatory mechanisms. The paper provides an overview of current understanding about the health risks of PM2.5 and summarizes data from human studies on nutritional solutions such as marine omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins as an intervention for the detrimental responses to PM2.5.

In the ‘Global Update of Air Quality Guidelines (AQG)’, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes that “clean air is considered to be a basic requirement of human health and wellbeing” (WHO 2005). According to the AQG, the recommended PM2.5 concentration, selected to minimize likely health effects based on existing literature, is an annual mean of 10μg/m3. The WHO also sets an annual mean of 35μg/m3 as an interim target-1 (IT-1), exposure to which is associated with an approximately 15% increase in mortality risk. It has been estimated that 80% of the world’s population lives in regions that exceed the AQG [1]  and it is a growing problem.

“Inhaling polluted air, especially air containing PM2.5, constitutes an environmental risk that has a proven impact on the quality and duration of human life,” said co-author Professor Manfred Eggersdorfer, senior vice president, nutrition, science and advocacy at DSM and Professor for Healthy Ageing at Groningen University. He adds: “The objective of this scientific paper is to highlight human clinical investigations in which vitamins and marine-derived long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids were administrated to significantly reduce certain detrimental responses to PM2.5 exposure.”

Results from both randomized and cohort studies in the last decade demonstrated that PM2.5 exposure induced unfavorable physiological and biochemical responses (i.e. heart rate variability reduction and oxidative stress) in the human body. Supplementation of fish oil, some B vitamins, vitamin E and C were shown to intervene with these responses.

Corresponding author, Weiguo Zhang, director of nutritional science and advocacy, DSM Nutritional Products, Human Nutrition & Science of Greater China, also comments: “Many people across the world are now exposed to air pollution daily. The studies included in this paper demonstrate that nutrition can play an important role in reducing some detrimental responses of the body to PM2.5 exposure. Future investigations are needed to determine whether long-term administration of these nutrients improves PM2.5-related clinical endpoints, for example, cardiovascular and respiratory outcomes.”

For more information on how nutritional solutions can counter the health impact of air pollution, watch DSM’s webinar on vitamin E.


[1] Van Donkelaar, A., Martin, R.V., Brauer, M., et al. Global estimates of ambient fine particular matter concentrations from satellite-based aerosol optical depth: Development and application. (2010) Environ Health Perspective 118(6): 847-855

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