Supporting Lung Health During Poor Air Quality

With the forest fires, we have been experiencing lower air quality. It was the worst this past Monday, with Environment Canada issuing a special air quality statement stating that most parts of the Calgary would be experiencing an Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) of 10, with higher numbers in the NW of the city. Right now the AQHI is at a 4, which is considered moderate risk to increase symptoms of pre-existing illnesses, such as asthma, or experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, coughing or irritated eyes (Alberta Environment and Parks). 

I know I've been clearing my throat and coughing more over the past few days, and I know I'm not the only one. Alberta Health Services gave a few recommendations to help decrease your exposure to the smoke.

Alberta Health Services has advised the following for those who are susceptible to smoke, when the AQHI is high:

  • Monitor your symptom and minimize physical activity outdoors
  • Stay indoors with windows, doors and air circulation fans/vents closed - including in the car
  • Run your car fan on re-circulate mode to avoid drawing in outdoor air
  • Turn off air-conditioners or fans that bring outside air inside
  • Turn down furnace thermostats and furnace fans to the minimum setting. Do not attempt to extinguish pilot light.
  • Switch all floor registers to closed position.
  • Close fire place dampers on wood burning fireplaces.

Here is a few more things you can do to support your lungs, clear out some of that built up mucous, and help your lungs feel like new. 

Get an air purifier 

These help clean out the pollutants in the air so that you can breath clean air. These are especially helpful if you have any pre-existing illnesses that make you sensitive to air quality. You can get these at places like Home Depot, Canadian Tire, etc. You could also opt for plant air purifiers, The Mind Unleashed has a beautiful infographic summarizing a study published by NASA that listed a number of plants that helped clean the air of various pollutants and toxins, such as formaldehyde. Though, you will need a few plants around your room before you start noticing a difference. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and found in fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants protects the body from free radicals that can damage cells and as a result, damage organs. A higher intake of vitamin C protects the body by reducing the air pollution-induced oxidative stress in the body. Researches at Imperial College in London studied a population of patients hospitalized, the air quality, and the patient's levels of vitamin C. They noticed that there was a 35% increased risk of hospitalization for breathing-related issues for people with COPD or asthma for every 10 mcg/m3 increase of coarse particulate matter in the air. This number was 1.2 higher for people with low vitamin C levels.

N-acetylcystine (NAC)

NAC is used in the body to make glutathione (along with glycine and glutamine), which is often called the master antioxidant or the "Mother of All Antioxidants" of the body. It is one of the most abundant antioxidants in the body, is found along the extracellular epithelial lining fluid, and respiratory cells (from the trachea to the alveoli in the lungs) (Hindawi Biochemical Research International), with highest concentrations found in the liver. As a result, it is able to defend the body similarly to vitamin C, by protecting the body from free radicals and pollution-induced oxidative stress (PLOSone). Glutathione is a very strong anti-inflammatory in the body; therefore, it will be able to quell the inflammation that happens to lungs in the presence of pollution and other irritants. NAC is also a muoclytic - meaning that it helps make mucus less thick and stick, so it is easier to cough it up - which is nice if you've been having a hard time.

Olive Oil or Fish Oil

These two are known to help the cardiovascular system as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory, and as a result, studies were conducted to see if it could help with the respiratory system as well. Fish oil was found to be able to prevent and decrease the inflammation caused by pollution-related oxidation (The Guardian). Patients that took olive oil were able to increase tissue plasminogen activator right after they were exposed to concentrated ambient particulate. Plasminogen activator is a protein that is involved in breaking down blood clots (Medical News Today), protecting the vascular system from atherosclerosis as a result of endothelial (inner lining) dysfunction from the air pollution.

    Happy breathing!

    - Dr. Charmagne