(Written in August 2021) My heart goes out to the families, animals, and beautiful land affected by the wildfires burning throughout the World. As I write this there are 100 active large fires burning in 12 different US States, and looking out my home office windows in Bend, Oregon, the real-time air quality index is 521: Hazardous!!! It’s suffocating and dark at 1pm. Needless to say, myself and my family are staying inside but I can smell the smoke seeping in through vents and poor door seals, which is a health concern.
Keep Your Family Safe
Exposure to wildfire smoke is a serious health risk which can disproportionaly impact sensitive groups. I want to help families stay healthy when wildfire smoke is so bad, which has unfortunately become the new norm in the western US, peaking during the later summer months.
The short-term effects of exposure to poor quality air are temporary and include: irritation of the eyes, nose, skin, throat, wheezing, headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulties, coughing, and chest tightness. These problems can be aggravated by extended long-term exposure to the pollutants, which is harmful to the neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems1.
In these times of fear and uncertainty, the most important thing we can do is be prepared.
Be prepared to support your lungs.
Be prepared to help maintain your body's detoxification mechanisms.
Be prepared to evacuate safely.
Being prepared will help your heart and mind stay as calm as possible.
Check the Air Quality Index
Please be sure to check the Air Quality Index website for your Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) where you live. Below is a description of the various Air Quality Index colors used.
(graphic from EPA)
Supporting Respiratory and Immune Health
Protecting your family’s health from wildfire smoke and any other environmental pollutants are done by choosing nutrients that support your lung health and your body’s liver detoxification pathways.
Here are the Nutrition and Lifestyle recommendations I would consider for as long as the fires are ongoing, and the Air Quality Index remains anything but “Good.”
INCLUDE MORE ANTIOXIDANTS FOR NORMAL DETOXIFICATION SUPPORT
Whenever the body is under stress, extra antioxidants are a MUST. Here are ways to include more antioxidants in your diet both via food and supplementation.
- Eat as many phytonutrients and antioxidant-rich foods as possible. They support normal inflammatory levels, reduce oxidative stress and damage, and support detoxification. What does that mean? EAT A RAINBOW of fruits and vegetables. Pack in daily “green smoothies” with as much chlorella, cilantro, and parsley as you and your kids will tolerate. Throw in beets, ginger, and turmeric for added detox and inflammatory support. Find a green drink powder you like if you don't have fresh foods on hand or are short on time.
- I really like using this Mega-Antioxidant blend for my antioxidant support. It contains a little bit of all the important antioxidants. Additionally, here are six antioxidants that will fight for you!
- Liposomal glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant and is crucial for detoxification, respiratory health, and immune health. The recommended dosage of liposomal glutathione may vary from 500-1500mg per day.
- N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a precursor to glutathione and can be used as a less expensive & very effective, alternative. Dose: 600 mg, 2-3 times daily
- Smoke causes inflammation via oxidative damage, and antioxidants reduce the negative effects of oxidative stress. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and Selenium are four powerful antioxidants required in the battle against air pollution. Vitamin C also helps in regenerating and protecting the Vitamin E levels in our bloodstream, so taking them together is important.
Vitamin A works as an antioxidant and is involved in the proliferation and maintenance of epithelial cells, including those of the respiratory tract3.
- For overall Lung support, this powerful blend specifically targets the lungs and respiratory system. This formulation includes vitamins, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and detoxification-supporting nutrients to promote overall immune health within the respiratory system. One nutrient in particular, octacosanol, promotes healthy oxygen utilization in the tissues of the body, such as the heart, muscles, lungs, and brain. Octacosanol also maintains healthy oxygen levels during periods of diminished oxygen availability or increased oxygen demand. For example, octacosanol supports a healthy adaptation while participating in high altitude activities, during intense exercise, and for any high-stress situation that impacts lung health, respiration, and respiratory capacity.
FOOD CHOICES TO SUPPORT DETOXIFICATION
- Along with eating more high antioxidant foods, it's also very important to reduce your intake of high inflammatory foods, such as fried foods and foods disproportionately high in sugar, alcohol, and refined carbohydrates2. A healthier suggestion is a diet with more than half of all food consumed as vegetables, about one-third as protein, and the remainder (one-sixth) as other foods, such as fruits, dairy, grains, or starches2. Sugar puts a load on the liver that can interfere with proper detoxification and lead to irreversible non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD) which is unfortunately increasingly common in both kids and adults.
- Probiotics, fermented foods, and optimal gut health are key to supporting detox and immune health. Probiotics have countless benefits. Among the most important is helping our gut detoxify toxic chemicals like heavy metals, pesticides, and xenoestrogens such as bisphenol A (BPA). Load up on fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, yogurt, kombucha, and kefir.
- Reduce total toxic burden by eating organic (at least the foods that are on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, and whole unprocessed foods as much as possible, drinking clean filtered water, avoiding artificial flavors, dyes, and preservatives, eliminating plastics, BPAs, parabens, phthalates, and other toxic everyday chemicals in our personal care products, cleaners, and other household items (the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Home Tips is a great place to start).
- Extra magnesium is a good idea for people with asthma to support lung and respiratory health oxygen utilization.
LIFESTYLE DETOXIFICATION SUPPORT
- Diffuse essential oils to support detoxification, immune and respiratory health. Citrus oils (lemon, grapefruit, bergamot, neroli), lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint oils are great choices.
- Regular exercise and sweating is an essential part of detoxification, but while the air quality remains poor, keep the exercise to indoor activities and consider an infrared sauna if you have access to one.
- Drink LOTS of water. Staying hydrated will help ensure optimal urine and stool output – we get rid of most of our toxins by pee, poop, and sweat! A good rule of thumb for baseline fluid needs – divide your weight in pounds by half, and that’s how many ounces to drink daily. Add MORE on those really hot and sweaty days. And better yet, stay hydrated with electrolyte-containing fluids like coconut water or bone broth to replace the minerals lost through sweating and provide continued detoxification support.
- Get enough sleep. Our brain literally shrinks by almost half its volume in our sleep to be bathed by the glymphatic system – a specialized lymphatic system in the brain that brings in critical nutrients and eliminates unnecessary toxins! Here are my tips for supporting better sleep naturally.
- Use a HEPA air purifier! I have two in my home and they have been a total life saver. I use a FilterQueen Defender air purifier, but the filter replacements are expensive. I think there are equally great options on the market with less investment for replacements.
Here are two recommendations from professionals I trust + a DIY hack:
3. You can also create a DIY air purifier with this hack.
This information will benefit anyone experiencing high pollution and poor air quality – whether from fires or any other environmental pollutants. Stay safe! Stay healthy.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods