“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on Earth.” ~Sanskrit Proverb
You want the bad news first? We all know that smoking tobacco is bad for you, but even if you do not smoke, the air you breathe may be harming not only your lungs, but those of the children you love. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1pwWjIHPYw Studies definitively show that asthma and allergies are associated with air pollution from traffic. (Bowatte G, 2015). Asthma is associated with less physical activity (Groth, 2015) and higher rates of obesity. (Teodorescu, 2013) Obesity is associated with many different diseases including dementia (Soto-Gordoa, 2015), nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (Demir, 2015), PCOS, infertility, endometrial cancer, breast cancer, (Cardozo, 2012), hypertension, stroke, gall bladder disease, reflux esophagitis, sleep apnea, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, arthritis, diabetes, dyslipidemia and even increased incidence of asthma. (Medscape, 2015).
Asthma makes exercise very difficult, and lack of exercise is not only a risk factor for cancer (Bode, 2009), but it is also an effective treatment for depression in older adults (Rhyner, 2015) and it improves depressive symptoms and reduces oxidative damage in patients with type 2 diabetes (Lovrencic, 2015)
Air pollution is deadly: when the amount of pollution in the air increases, more people die from and go to the hospital for respiratory problems. There is no currently no amount of air pollutions below which no effects occur. (Schwela, 2000). Our children are the most susceptible, one in ten American children had asthma in 2009, and the number of people with asthma is steadily increasing. The most vulnerable population is our school aged children. (Alhanti, 2015)
Air pollution is not limited to that which comes from the burning of fossil fuels (gas and coal). In one study that looked at children’s exposure to indoor air in urban nurseries, formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cleaning products were found to exceed the levels deemed safe. (Branco, 2015)
Now for the good news: How you can improve your lung health.
1. If you smoke, quit. The sooner you do so, the better chance your lungs have to recover from the damage already done.
2. NAC 600mg taken three times a day (adult dose) can protect against asthma attacks triggered by diesel exhaust. “Anti-oxidant (N-acetylcysteine) supplementation protects against increased airway responsiveness associated with diesel exhaust inhalation and reduces need for bronchodilators.” (Carlsten, 2014)
3. Herbal medicine: Natural anti-inflammatories like Boswellia serrata, Curcuma longa and Glycyrrhiza glabra can have a pronounced effect on the management of bronchial asthma. (Houssen, 2010)
4. Eat more fruit: Fruit consumption reduces the prevalence of airway inflammation and asthma. (Hurst, 2010) A healthy diet goes a long way in supporting overall health.
5. Get Moving!! Exercise and pulmonary rehab can help. If you already suffer from COPD, at least four weeks of exercise training leads to significant improvements in health related quality of life and exercise tolerance. (COPD, 2012) Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases, and physical activity prevents or delays chronic diseases. (Booth, 2012)
6. Contribute less to pollution: Make your next car a fuel efficient one, and ride your bike, walk or carpool to help decrease air pollution because “significant associations were observed between decreasing death rates of emphysema, asthma, and pneumonia and decreases in levels of ambient air pollutants” (Kravchenko, 2014)
7. Air Filters “can achieve substantial removal in even “worst” case applications.” While particulate matter levels in homes with asthmatic children can be high, levels can be dramatically reduced using filters.” (Liuliu, 2011) Wear a face mask when you are outside on high pollution days to decrease your exposure to particulate matter. (Langrish, 2012) Be sassy and make it a fashion accessory or just enjoy the wide berth you are afforded because you look contagious.
8. Be a smart consumer and buy green cleaning products and formaldehyde free products– Indoor air can be even worse than outdoor air, and formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds from cleaners are the main culprits. (Branco, 2015) (Vandenplas, 2013) Ironically, air fresheners and scented candles also make significant contributions to air levels of formaldehyde. (Trantallidi, 2015) Buy formaldehyde free or organic consumer products when you can, and for a list of the best cleaners to use visit: http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/notices.
The lungs are delicate, and once damaged, they never fully recover. There are healthy lifestyle changes you can make to help maintain lung health and function, but if we want to address the cause of lung disease, we must clean up our air. Become an activist for cleaner fuel sources and alternative transportation, or at least a mindful consumer to protect yourself and the ones you love. Breathe well and live long on the Earth.