Hard to Breathe? Might Be Something in the Air – By Dr Tanner Alden ND

August 2, 2017 |

As the wildfires of BC still threaten homes and communities in what seems like all of BC except the lower mainland, we may think we are safe from the consequences of it – well not today. Wildfire smoke has forced an air quality advisory for the lower mainland and if you look out the window it is quite apparent the skies are far from the crisp blue we have been so lucky to have this summer. Pair this with the heat wave we are getting and the health risks become even more complicated. I am not a wildfire expert, but I am a health expert and know the consequences poor air quality can have on your health.

Individuals that have asthma or other lung conditions like COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), those that have heart disease, the elderly, and pregnant woman are going to struggle with this influx of residual smoke and heat. The most complicating component of wildfire smoke is the particulate matter (PM) in the air and it can’t be seen. So what can you do to help ease the additional health burden?

  1. First thing you need to do is make sure you are staying hydrated and cool. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Mentha piperita (peppermint) is considered a cooling herb that can help to decrease internal heat, clear toxins, and nourish your yin. If you make peppermint tea and leave it in the fridge to steep, you will have a refreshing and cooling drink to stay hydrated with. You can also add in mint leaves and cucumber slices for more flavour and even more of a cooling effect. It is also safe in pregnancy in tea from, avoid the internal use of oil though. One warning with this herb is that it may cause reflux due to its smooth muscle relaxant actions.
  2. You also want to make sure all your windows and blinds are closed and if you have an air conditioner (chances are you don’t because you live in Vancouver!) set it to circulate the air. If you don’t have one, you can always go to an air-conditioned place like your local coffee shop or library – you will stay cool and get to socialize!
  3. The PM in the air causes a strong inflammatory response and a decrease in the antioxidant content of the lungs, resulting in higher levels of oxidative stress. To modulate this inflammation you can use a combination of the herbs Bosweilla, Curcuma longa, and Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice). There have been countless studies on Curcumin showing its therapeutic action is on the prevention and/or modulation of inflammation and oxidative stress in the lungs.
  4. Another herb that is specific to the lungs is Lobelia inflata. It is a respiratory stimulant, expectorant (clears mucous), and will improve overall proper respiratory function. Important to note, this herb can be very toxic and you should speak to your naturopathic doctor before using it.
  5. Up those Omega-3 fatty acids! At doses between 2000mg and 4000mg (EPA+DHA combined) inflammatory markers will be reduced, improving pulmonary function and decreasing the need for prescribed bronchodilator use.
    • A side not on bronchodilator medication. With moderate to severe pulmonary disease you should still be administering them as needed and the recommendations in this article are not here to replace the use of these medications. Natural therapies may help to decrease the use of them and who knows, maybe you won’t need to take them in some cases.
  6. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to increase bronchodilation and in acute situations it can be administered as an IV or via a nebulizer (ie. Breathing in vapour that contains magnesium).
  7. NAC or N-acetylcysteine is a derivative of the amino acid cysteine and can act as a mucolytic, helping to break up mucous formation in the lungs. It can be taken internally, but is especially beneficial to the lung tissue when nebulized. It is also the main precursor to our internal powerhouse antioxidant glutathione and is a free radical scavenger in itself. With the increased levels of oxidative stress from the poor air quality, maintaining high antioxidant levels will help to mitigate the damage on your body.
  8. Finally, focus on your diet. Make sure you are reducing mucous forming foods like gluten, dairy, and sugar and including 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day – eat for the colour of the rainbow. Yes, supplements are great and have a place in our health regime, but they are never there to replace your food choices. The more fresh nutrients you get from your diet the better, not too mention the antioxidant capacity if these whole food sources.

Here is a list of warning signs that may require immediate medical care as they may indicate a more serious and threatening health concern:

  • A cough that is persistent or worsening
  • Shortness of breath, beyond what is usually experienced
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Significant weakness or fatigue
  • Feeling disoriented and light headed

On a final note, let’s make sure we are looking after one another. If you have a family member or friend in their later years of life or know someone with any of the above health conditions make sure you are checking in on them periodically. Stay safe and healthy out there!

  • Tanner Alden, ND

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