Plus 3 simple steps for protecting yourself indoors AND out
It’s summer, which means three things:
1) The temperature is skyrocketing
2) Humidity is off the charts, and
3) Air pollution is having its heyday.
If you’re like most people, you probably keep pretty good tabs on the first two — I know I start every day by checking out the weather on my phone.
But how tuned in are you to the third item on that list — air pollution?
Did you know the government provides daily updates on current air pollution levels across the country? You can stay in the know by visiting www.airnow.gov and monitoring the Air Quality Index (AQI) for your area. On orange and red days, it might be a good idea to opt for indoor exercise instead of that evening walk through the neighborhood.
And not just because walking around in the smog will be hard on your lungs. The hazards of air pollution go much deeper than that.
In fact, three recent studies highlighted just how strong the link between pollution and health really is.
But the good news is, there are a few simple things you can do to armor yourself against this threat. More on that in just a bit. First, though, let’s take a closer look at the recent research on how air quality impacts your health.
Air pollution ups your risk of three top killers
The first group of researchers analyzed 10 years of data on 19,409 women. The conclusion: breathing levels of air pollution found in most U.S. cities was associated with significantly faster cognitive decline.
In the second study, researchers reviewed the medical records of 1,705 Boston area patients hospitalized for ischemic stroke. They found that when Boston’s air quality index registered “moderate” pollution, the odds of ischemic stroke leapt by over 30 percent. Stroke risk was greatest within 12 to 14 hours after exposure to air pollution. Especially traffic-related pollution (i.e. exhaust fumes).
And yet another report linked air pollution with heart attack.
So really, the AQI is the first number you should look at each day. Heat and humidity may be a nuisance, but at least they won’t up your risk for stroke, heart attack, and cognitive decline.
Why staying inside might not be such safe haven after all…
Now, I know I told you to bring your workout indoors on poor air quality days. But you may not be entirely safe even in your own home…At least, not without taking a few precautionary steps first.
We’re learning more and more lately about how we may be unknowingly contributing to air pollution in our very own homes. Smoking, obviously, is a major source of indoor air pollution. But even non-smokers are putting themselves at unnecessary risk with some common habits they may not even realize are dangerous.
For instance, if you ever get your clothes dry cleaned, you’re breathing a dangerous chemical called perchloroethylene, known to cause cell damage
in lab animals.
And if you ever use moth balls, toilet cleaners, or household disinfectants, chances are good you’re being exposed to paradichlorobenzene, another cell-damaging chemical.
Believe it or not, even your shower and your washing machine expose you to dangerous toxins. Because the chlorine in your water turns into chloroform once it’s heated — you’re breathing the steam and absorbing it into your skin.
And a new study has shown that a number of other factors increase the airborne pollutants within the home.
Led by environmental researchers at San Diego State University, the study set out to determine what is contributing to high air particle levels within homes. They found that the smallest, most dangerous particles come from dust, fungal spores, auto emissions, and byproducts of combustion.
Not surprisingly, the homes of smokers had the worst indoor air quality — up to twice as bad as the other homes. Other contributors were marijuana smoke (this was California, after all), candles and incense, frying food, and cleaning product sprays.
Some takeaways from the study: If you smoke anything, take it outside. Stick to nontoxic cleaning products. If you’re frying foods in oil, turn on the exhaust fan. And maybe invest in a good HEPA filter that can trap those tiny particles.
My three-step pollution protection plan
If you’re not safe from pollution outside or inside, what can you do to protect yourself against the hazards of airborne particulates?
Luckily, nature offers some pretty solid solutions. In fact, you can protect yourself from the effects of the toxins you can’t eliminate or avoid with this simple three-step plan.
Step 1: Detox
Some toxin exposure is just unavoidable. That’s why I do quarterly detoxes — to help my body rid itself of all the toxins it has accumulated in the past three months.
I used to recommend — and follow — a simple water fast for detoxification. But I just couldn’t deny all the new science out there that shows supporting your body’s natural elimination processes along will only yield better, faster results.
This is why the market has exploded with all sorts of detox supplements. So how do you choose the right one? A good detox product will include ingredients that support the three critical phases of detoxification — modification, conjugation, and elimination.
For more on these phases, and on my specific detox regimen, refer back to the article “Two weeks to a leaner, cleaner body” in the September 2013 issue of Logical Health Alternatives.
Step 2: E is for elimination (of toxins)
One simple vitamin may help counteract the lung damage caused by air pollution. In a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers looked at blood samples from over 5,500 participants who had also had their lung function tested. The researchers then evaluated the participants’ long-term exposure to air pollution.
They found that the people with the most exposure to pollution not only had the lowest scores on the lung function tests — they also had the lowest levels of vitamin E in their blood.
The researchers believe that increasing vitamin E levels may help offset the damage pollution can do to the lungs.
Considering all the other things vitamin E is good for, it certainly can’t hurt to get more of this essential nutrient — especially when the AQI is high.
I recommend 800 IU of vitamin E per day. Just be sure to look for a full spectrum product. Most common forms of vitamin E are straight alpha tocopherol. But this is actually the synthetic form of vitamin E — and it’s not what you want.
Shop for a supplement with high levels of gamma tocopherol, along with all the other tocopherols and tocotrienols (there are four of each, for a total of eight), instead.
And while you’re at it, fill up on foods like almonds, tomatoes, cabbage, spinach, asparagus, and avocados. The more vitamin E you can get the old-fashioned way, the better.
Step 3: Boost your Bs
Recent research suggests you should add B vitamins to your regimen when you’re trying to offset the effects of air pollution. Environmental researchers at Columbia University conducted a small pilot study to see whether B vitamins could stop the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by exposure to fine particulate air pollution.
They started by giving 10 healthy adults a placebo and then exposing them to two hours of unpolluted air. After that, the participants took the placebo for four weeks before being exposed to polluted air for two hours. Next they took B vitamins (folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) for four weeks before having another 2-hour pollution session.
During and after the study, the participants had their heart function measured with electrocardiograms and underwent blood tests.
The researchers found that the air pollution sessions upped heart rate, white blood cells, and lymphocytes. But when they were pretreated with B vitamins, those effects were nearly reversed.
I recommend 5 mg of folic acid a day, along with 100 mg of vitamin B6 and 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12. These three nutrients work together in the body to combat numerous threats to your heart health — including, it turns out, air pollution.
You can get all three of these from a high-quality B-complex supplement. But it doesn’t hurt to add a few extra servings of folic-acid-rich foods to your menu too. And I’m not talking about “fortified” cereals or “enriched” breads. You’re much better off opting for natural sources of this essential nutrient — like arugula, spinach, asparagus, avocado, and broccoli.
Bonus Step: Eat more broccoli!
Speaking of broccoli… One study showed that you can disarm some of the dangers of air pollution just by filling up on broccoli sprouts.
To come to this conclusion, researchers prepared a special broccoli sprout beverage, standardized for the active phytochemicals glucoraphanin and sulforaphane. Sulforaphane might sound familiar. I’ve mentioned it before because it’s a powerful anticancer agent. And glucoraphanin is the precursor to sulforaphane.
So the fact that just half a cup of this concoction boosted subjects’ ability to detox deadly airborne carcinogens like benzene shouldn’t come as a surprise.
In fact, blood and urine samples showed that benzene excretion shot up by 61 percent on the very first day the study participants drank the broccoli sprout beverage. And the effect lasted for the whole 12-week trial.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, though, and venture a guess that the idea of a broccoli smoothie doesn’t sound all that appealing to you.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve a similar effect by filling up on plain old cruciferous vegetables — like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and of course, broccoli. You just need to make sure you’re preparing them right.
In order to get the most benefits from broccoli and other cruciferous veggies, choose organic, fresh, and raw produce. Be sure to chop them up about five minutes before you plan to eat them to activate the important detoxing compounds.
And if you’re going to cook your veggies, don’t go overboard. A light steam on the stovetop (never the microwave) for five minutes or so — just enough to make your broccoli or cauliflower slightly tender — is best.
Arm yourself against air pollution
On a whole, we’ve been relatively successful in recent decades at reducing air pollution through advances in environmental protection. But unfortunately it’s still a terribly hazardous part of most people’s lives. And it’s responsible for killing millions of people around the world every year.
So continuing to clean up the environment is obviously the most necessary step to take. But if you’re going to avoid toxic fallout, you also need to find some ways to mop up and clear out the unavoidable leftovers from your body.
The three-step plan I’ve laid out here will give you a good start — no matter what the AQI says.
“Rapid and Sustainable Detoxication of Airborne Pollutants by Broccoli Sprout Beverage: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial in China.” Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014 Jun 9.