Detoxify from summer smog & wildfires and the dry, dusty fall…
and fortify yourself for Fall Cold & Flu Season.
This summer’s air quality was on par with Beijing. Whether you’ve had a dry cough rattling around, distress from fall allergies, or even fatigue… These can all be symptoms of respiratory distress. The rains may have come, the smog may have cleared, but for a lot of us, the respiratory damage is still there. Here’s a quick guide on how you may be affected… and what you can do about it.
First off, the effects of all that wood smoke in the air this summer:
Many people experienced irritated eyes, lungs, throat and sinuses during the hazy days. Those were just the obvious symptoms. Many other people experienced coughing, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue and allergy symptoms, perhaps attributing these to a summertime/early fall cold … or to typical fall allergy season.
The thick smog from the forest fires was on top of all that dry grass, late-summer seeds and dry-weather dust that was already testing the resilience of our respiratory tissues.
What’s in the air around you? A lot more chemicals than you might think:
Wood smoke, whether from the forest fires or from your fall and winter fireplace burning, contains a lot of different chemicals that can irritate throat, eyes, nose and lungs… and the worst of them can possibly accumulate in the body over multiple exposures.
In addition to mold spores and fine particulates from wood and ash, which can be irritating in and of themselves, typical smog and wood smoke also contain large amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Called “volatile” because these compounds easily become vaporous, and therefore airborne, these compounds are small and so are easily ingested by the body. A large part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s work is to limit human exposure to VOCs from cars, industry and consumer products. This summer’s forest fires just added more fuel to the fire, so to speak.
Wood smoke also contains methane, lead, aldehydes (such as formaldehyde, acrolein, propionaldehyde, butyraldehyde, acetaldehyde, and furfural). Alkyl benzenes found in wood smoke include toxic toluene. Oxygenated monoaromatics include guaiacol, phenol, syringol and catechol. Numerous PAHs or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found in smoke. Many trace elements and heavy metals also are released.
All in all, perhaps some 50 or more potentially damaging compounds were present in abnormally thick concentrations in the Portland air for weeks. For a partial list, visit the EPA’s website.
In fall and winter, indoor air quality becomes a concern as well:
When it comes to our indoor air quality, good ventilation makes all the difference. During the spring, summer and early fall months this is fairly easy to accomplish with opened windows and doors. But during the cooler months, most of us work to keep the house closed up and draft-free. On top of that, energy efficient building codes since the late 1980s/early 1990s have resulted in homes that are so “tight” that they require mechanical ventilation, such as whole-house fans, to help ensure proper indoor air quality.
Moisture is the main culprit in indoor air quality issues. When moisture lingers or accumulates—in bathrooms, kitchens and crawlspaces—there’s opportunity for irritating (and unhealthy) molds and fungus to grow.
Dust (and dust mites) also have the chance to proliferate in the home.
Forced air furnaces can stir dust, and cozy fireplaces (even properly vented ones) can still introduce chemicals from wood smoke into the home.
To improve air quality in the home, wash bedding frequently, reduce dust-accumulating clutter and consider doing away with carpets and area rugs. Even more, make sure to generously ventilate kitchen and bathroom areas and take steps to limit moisture in basements and crawlspaces, either with proper moisture barrier material or dehumidifiers.
Fall is a challenging time to recover from lung and respiratory irritations. But there’s plenty you can do to help.
This is the year to finally do a Fall Detox
The days of polluted air may be behind us, but their lingering effects are not. Let’s clean it out before the new year. Come see us for a 3-, 7- or 10-day detox and get set up with products that can gently detox your system and give your immunity system a fighting chance as you head into cold and flu season.
Schedule an appointment with our Naturopathic Doctor Katherine Walker. She’s here to help get you back on track.
Natural herbs and medicinals that heal and protect the lungs
Vitamin C is arguably the most important water soluble antioxidant found in the respiratory system.
Vitamin B6 The body requires vitamin B6 for normal functioning of more than 60 different enzymes, some of which are directly involved in the respiratory system.
Magnesium promotes relaxation. Because the muscles of the respiratory system impact how the lungs expand, therefore, the capacity to trap air, it is important to provide these muscles with adequate amounts of magnesium.
Slippery Elm – this mucilaginous bark moistens the mucosa of the lungs which reduces irritation and allows particulates to productively clear out.
White Mulbery or Sang Ye in Chinese Medicine – cooling, relaxing, clears heat from the lung,
Astragalus – this adaptogen has an affinity to the lungs and supports the mucosa of the lungs. It my favorite plant ally, for it boosts energy, is supportive to the adrenals. I take this from October-February as it is such a support to the respiratory system.
Root Tonic & Tea Throat & Lung Tea – Mullien, Elberberry and Peppermint calm respiratory tract distress, Ginseng, Usnea and Oregano encourage normal immune system function.
- Fresh blueberries are among the foods with the highest antioxidant content, but they are sadly out of season in fall. Fortunately, there are plenty of other foods you can fill in with this season:
- Dark green (cruciferous) vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are all high in antioxidant compounds that can help shed toxins from the body.
- Red, purple and green grapes
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts, including pecans, almonds, walnuts
- Sweet orange vegetables – carrots, sweet potatoes and squash
- Beans, including kidney beans, black-eyed peas and lentils
- Fish – especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, trout and herring
Common cooking herbs and spices are antioxidant-rich as well:
Our clinic team of naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, nutritionists and chiropractors, are here to support you with any herbal supplements, vitamin B shots or even our Throat & Lung tea. And, for your convenience, we’re just a call away.
Root Whole Body Health
NW Portland/Slabtown: 503-292-7668
1993 EPA Report, A Summary of the Emissions Characterization and Noncancer Respiratory Effects of Wood Smoke, EPA-453/R-93-036