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Could vitamins help Utahns breathe easy during inversions?

SHARE Could vitamins help Utahns breathe easy during inversions?

LOGAN — Those who live along the Wasatch Front know how bad the air quality can get. It seems the tell-tale lung irritation and scratchy throats have become an unpleasant winter tradition in recent years.

Several times during the winter months the air quality along the Wasatch Front exceeds federal health safety levels, posing serious health problems for older residents and people with sensitive health conditions.

"For winter, we're kind of unique because of our inversions," said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality. "The emissions are always there, but when we have high pressure, it kind of puts a lid on the valley."

The valley's geography plays a key role in trapping polluted air.

Now a team of researchers at Utah State University are exploring whether vitamin supplements can actually help people resist air pollution. Michael Lefevre, a professor in USU's College of Agriculture, is looking to see if vitamin supplements containing high amounts of antioxidants can help people breathe a little easier during high pollution days.

Tiny particles, called PM2.5, are the culprit for respiratory irritation during inversions.

"PM2.5 lodges in the lung and causes irritation and inflammation," said John Cuomo, executive director of research and development for USANA. "This inflammation goes on to induct airway constriction and reduce lung function."

The Utah-based nutritional supplement company has given USU a $147,000 research grant for the study.

PM2.5 particles can come from automobiles, power plants, wood burning and factories. According to the Utah Division of Air Quality, PM2.5 particles have been associated with heart attacks, chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Lefevre said his team will recruit 70 Cache County residents between ages 55 and 80. People will be divided into two groups. One group will be given a USANA multivitamin containing antioxidants and the second group will be given a placebo. Test subjects will be monitored over the winter months, through March.

During high and low air quality days, subjects will be called in to test their lung capacity and indicators of inflammation through breath and blood tests. "Our goal is to be able to sample right after three peak inversions and then sample at three low levels so we can measure highs and lows," Lefevre said.

The theory is that antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E, counteract oxidants found in polluted air. Lefevre said previous studies on Vitamin C and fish oil (containing Vitamin E) have had mixed results on their effectiveness against air pollution. He is hoping his study will provide a better understanding to possible health benefits.

For better or for worse, Lefevre said Utah is an ideal place for this study, given its unique air quality issues.

Any Cache Valley resident in general good health, between the ages of 55 and 80, who are interested in participating can call 435-797-4226 or email cvair@usu.edu.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com