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Wildfires, Nutrition and Respiratory Health

Wildfires, Nutrition and Respiratory Health

I live in New York, about an hour north of New York City, so my exposure to the wildfires in California, Colorado and other areas out West are solely through the images on TV and online.  In addition to the terrible loss of forests and property, people (and animals) are left dealing with tremendous environmental pollution.

The gases and particles that the wildfires produce can be extremely irritating to the sensitive musosal lining of our lungs. (Other parts of the body like nasal passages, eyes, GI tract also have mucosal linings.) People with respiratory issues like asthma or allergies are particularly vulnerable to this air pollution and the resulting oxidative stress and inflammation.

What Does Nutrition Have to Do with Wildfires?

In addition to minimizing your outdoor exposure during the wildfires, healthy nutrition can help counter the potential health effects of the gases and particles that the wild fires produce. It’s important to eat a healthy whole foods diet rich in phytonutrients — a food component with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In plain language, eat a Mediterranean type diet, with lots and lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats (like nuts, seeds, olive oil), whole grains, fish, limited amounts of red meat (grass fed) and dairy and few or no processed foods. While healthy food is most important, targeted nutrition supplements, such as the master antioxidant glutathione, can provide addition support.

This article provides a review of some of the key nutrients that play important roles in the body to manage oxidative stress and inflammation from pollution.

Pollution and respiratory disease: can diet or supplements help? A review, Respir Research. 2018; 19: 79.

Pollution is known to cause and exacerbate a number of chronic respiratory diseases. The World Health Organisation has placed air pollution as the world’s largest environmental health risk factor. There has been recent publicity about the role for diet and anti-oxidants in mitigating the effects of pollution, and this review assesses the evidence for alterations in diet, including vitamin supplementation in abrogating the effects of pollution on asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases. We found evidence to suggest that carotenoids, vitamin D and vitamin E help protect against pollution damage which can trigger asthma, COPD and lung cancer initiation. Vitamin C, curcumin, choline and omega-3 fatty acids may also play a role. The Mediterranean diet appears to be of benefit in patients with airways disease and there appears to be a beneficial effect in smokers however there is no direct evidence regarding protecting against air pollution. More studies investigating the effects of nutrition on rapidly rising air pollution are urgently required. However it is very difficult to design such studies due to the confounding factors of diet, obesity, co-morbid illness, medication and environmental exposure.

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