Travel and industry restrictions set in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in unprecedented reductions in deadly air pollution around the world. In the northeastern United States alone, nitrogen dioxide pollution is down 30%.
I drive by our local airport every day on my way to the office, and I’ve never seen it so still. At first I found it strange and shocking. Now I’ve come to enjoy the peace and quiet. Today I saw a big pink Roseate Spoonbill flying at the end of the runway… right where the planes usually lift off.
But clearly this is only temporary.
The “normal,” which so many are desperate to return includes air travel and the reopening of business. And with that comes an increase in smog, nitrogen dioxide and tiny particles… types of pollution that kill up to 7 million people a year worldwide.
I’m sure you’ve noticed lots of people in Asian countries regularly wore masks prior to this pandemic. They even made them fashionable!
But this is related less to contagious illness than you might assume. It’s more often about what’s known as “bad air.”
Eastern medicine views breath and breathing as central elements in good health. “Qi” — meaning air or atmosphere — is a central health concept in Asian nations. When qi is depleted, pain and disease develop… so breathing is critical. And not just any qi will do… it needs to be clean, quality air. Which we know is in short supply in countries with high levels of pollution. Hence the masks!
But in America we don’t need to worry about our air quality, right? Wrong.
Because health issues and increased hospitalizations increase with a rise in air pollution
A Harvard study looked specifically at short-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution, also known as PM2.5.
Basically, this is a type of air pollution composed of tiny solids and liquids floating in the air that come from things like car exhaust, coal-fired power plants and wildfires.
While previous studies have shown that inhaled particles can get down deep into your lungs and cause serious health problems, the researchers wanted to break it down and see exactly what we have to fear most from the toxins.
The team analyzed a full 13 years’ worth of hospital admissions records from more than 95 million inpatient hospital claims.
They then estimated the daily PM2.5 levels across the U.S. using a computer model and matched the PM2.5 data with the zip codes of the study participants.
And here’s what they found…
Previous studies linked air pollution to heart and lung disease, Parkinson’s and diabetes. But recent analysis showed PM2.5 can also land you in the hospital with:
- Septicemia (serious bloodstream infection)
- Fluid and electrolyte disorders
- Renal failure
- Urinary tract infection
- Skin and tissue infections
Scarier still, the researchers discovered that even at levels below the air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in the U.S., the association between PM2.5 and all of those dangers still held true.
Preserving your health in the face of pollution dangers
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
If you’re hoping to retire your mask once the coronavirus pandemic is over, here are a few suggestions to protect yourself…
#1 — Check daily air pollution forecasts in your area
The color-coded forecasts can let you know when the air is unhealthy in your community. Sources include local radio and TV weather reports, newspapers and online at airnow.gov.
Avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are high. When the air is bad, walk indoors in a shopping mall or gym or use an exercise machine. Limit the amount of time your child spends playing outdoors if the air quality is unhealthy.
#2 — Eat with purpose
Polluted air increases free radicals in your body and causes inflammation. Eating a lot of antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods will better equip your body to face the negative effect of pollution.
Add a lot of vitamin B, C, D and E in your diet along with polyunsaturated fatty acids. This includes foods such as fish, fish oil, citrus fruits, olives, leafy greens, sprouts and avocados.
#3 — Use air purifiers
Being inside doesn’t mean you’re safe from pollution. The air inside your house is not untouched by the deteriorating air quality outside. Installing a good-quality air purifier can clean up indoor air.
#4 — Support your liver
Your liver is the main organ in your body responsible for detoxing. That means clearing out the toxins you come into contact with every day… like air pollution.
You want to keep your liver tip-top shape. To do this, make sure you’re getting enough:
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) — This powerful amino acid has been shown to help support gentle detoxification of carbon monoxide-rich smoke and other air pollutants. Plus, studies show that NAC also helps provide liver protection.
- Milk Thistle — An ancient liver-booster, milk thistle helps support the elimination of environmental pollutants.
- Turmeric — This potent Indian herb helps protect your liver from oxidative stress, promotes healthy liver function and supports the ability of your liver cells to identify and remove toxins from your bloodstream.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) — A potent antioxidant that helps keep fats from accumulating in the liver to help keep its function strong.
- Selenium — This trace element helps promote detoxification.
- Schisandra — An ancient Chinese herb, schisandra promotes healthy liver function by activating enzymes in the liver cells that produce glutathione — your body’s master antioxidant.
Even short-term exposure to low levels of air pollution could result in a serious health problem and land you in the hospital… a place you want to avoid more than usual during this pandemic. Doing everything you can to protect yourself is a must… breathe easy!