Wildfire Smoke & Its Damaging Effects
As we are all aware, wildfires were rampant once again this past summer. They affect our environment and climate, but the smoke can have a significant impact on our physical and mental health as well. Wildfire smoke is especially toxic – it contains very small particulates composed of harmful gases, solvents, metals, pesticides, asbestos, plastics, PCBs, amongst other dangerous compounds. These small particulates can penetrate deep into your lungs, and are 10 times more harmful to our health than non-wildfire pollution.
Health effects from these pollutants are vast and include: throat/eye/upper respiratory irritation, headaches, allergies, asthma, and even cardiovascular disease. Overtime, there is concern that this smoke can increase the risk for cancer, burden our immune system, have concern for reproductive health, increase anxiety and depression, exacerbate neurological conditions, and cause complications in heart and lung disease. Children are more vulnerable as their lungs are not fully mature and they breathe faster.
Covid-19 and symptoms from air pollution (including wildfire smoke) can over-lap in presentation. Dry cough, sore throat and difficulty with breathing are shared. Being exposed to this smoke/pollution can increase our susceptibility to respiratory infections including Covid-19 as well as pneumonia and bronchitis, and make these cases more severe and last longer.
So, what are some preventative measures that we can take to minimize health concerns from wildfire smoke when it is active??
• Stay indoors with the windows closed
• Minimize or eliminate exercise outside
• Avoid gas stoves, fireplaces or vacuums which can stir up indoor air
• Use a HEPA air purifier in your house
• Use filtered water
Nutritional support to limit the damage from the smoke includes eating organic, whole foods such as the Mediterranean diet (high in lean protein, ‘good’ fats, fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains). Try to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and encourage onions, garlic, berries and sprouts. Green tea, due to its rich amount of antioxidants are emphasized.
Supplements to aid in healing the respiratory tract and supporting the immune system include: vitamins C, E, and B complex; NAC and glutathione; curcumin, quercetin, and omega 3 fatty acids.
The ultimate goal is to minimize wildfires and hence try to have a positive effect on our climate and our physical and mental well-being. However, if these fires continue in our world, it is important that we have tools and resources to stay healthy in our ever-evolving world.
For more information, please look at the National Association of Environmental Medicine: NAEM