4 Ways to Protect your Lungs from Air Pollutants: In Support of Fort McMurray

Published on May 18, 2016 by Dr. NavNirat Nibber

Watching the news in Alberta these days has been devastating, the forest fires plaguing Northern Alberta have uprooted upwards of 80 000 people, and caused tremendous destruction. In a province already stressed by economic uncertainty, mother nature's fury seems particularly devastating. The fire has destroyed entire communities, leaving an earie “post apocalyptic mess” in its wake.  As an Albertan company, AOR has seen firsthand how detrimental this has been, the financial, physical, and emotional toll is almost overwhelming to see. That being said, the generosity of the Canadians has been equally overwhelming. The actions of first responders has been nothing short of admirable while financial aid was sent immediately and without reserve. It is easy to become immobilized by a sense of helplessness, and yet  the community has spectacularly risen to the challenges. In any emergency situation you help… you help a little, or a lot, you just help. This week we tried just that- help in the best way we can.

With the help of our loyal customers and amazing staff AOR has raised over $9000.00 for relief aid. THANK YOU to everyone who joined us in support. In addition to some fundraising activities, we wanted to dedicate this blog post to the firefighters in Northern Alberta, working tirelessly to keep everyone safe.

Breathe in, Breathe out...How to Protect your Lungs

In part three of our four part elimination series, we will be discussing how to protect our respiratory system from damage. Our lungs not only provide our cells with the necessary oxygen needed to survive, but also release gaseous wastes and regulates the acidity of our blood. Since gas exchange occurs in our lungs, they are most susceptible to inhalation injury from heat or chemical toxins. Inhalation injuries can be caused by direct thermal injury (such as from a fire), or from exposure to chemical irritants which may cause local tissue damage or systemic effects.

Our upper airway has evolved to warm or cool air before it reaches the delicate tissues of the lungs. 

That being said extreme conditions can cause significant tissue damage. The smoke itself, contains a number of gasses that can reach the lung tissue and can either damage tissues themselves or be absorbed by gases and circulated throughout the body. This can lead to serious clinical effects such as pneumonia, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome ( ARDS), long term effects such as pulmonary fibrosis, and if severe enough can lead to death. It's not just smoke inhalation that can cause this damage. Many commonly used chemicals are inhaled daily from our environment- car exhaust, indoor paint, pollution, even makeup. We are inundated with harmful chemicals on a daily basis, luckily we have some tools to combat this chemical assault.

  1. N-acetyl cystine (NAC) is  a derivative of the amino acid cystine. Given its molecular structure NAC is a potent antioxidant and increases the production of  another important antioxidant- glutathione. This increase is especially pronounced in lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis where the need for glutathione is high. The increased glutathione will also conjugate harmful toxins in the liver making them less toxic. The sulphydryl groups on NAC also acts as a detoxifier independently from the increase in glutathione. It reacts with many environmental pollutants, heavy metals,  even some harmful bacteria. It also breaks up mucous, helping you expel toxins that have accumulated along your respiratory tract. AOR carries NAC as well as NAC+ R-lipoic acid which helps regenerate antioxidants, making them more effective.
  2. Nebulised glutathione treatments are another tool you can use to protect and reverse lung damage. As mentioned above glutathione is a very powerful antioxidant made in the body, it helps detoxify cells from within (a rare feature.) Glutathione has been used in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, neurological injury, liver protection, immune support, anti-aging and cancer. However, oral supplementation of glutathione is notoriously poorly absorbed, hence its precursor NAC is often given. That being said inhalation of glutathione via a nebuliser allows for direct absorption of glutathione to lung tissue. Those with sulfa allergies and asthma should use caution and only get this treatment under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
  3. The best way to help our lungs is to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals. Since many of these compounds are ubiquitous in our environment, air purification systems are very helpful. There are many varieties of air purifiers available with the fundamental function of filtering air and removing heavy particles from the air. However, nature has developed its own filtration system. NASA partnered with a number of institutions to rank houseplants with the most effective filtration systems. Some of the top contenders were: aleo, spider plants, snake plants, golden pothos, and flowers such as gerber daisies, chrysanthemum, and peace lilies. Plants offer a cost effective and pleasant way to purify your indoor spaces. You can see the full list here.
  4. Diffused essential oils are another way to cleanse the air as well as heal your respiratory tract. Diffusing high quality essential oils is an excellent way to get therapeutic benefits of many plants. Essential oils are potent extracts of concentrated oils of many plants diffusers vaporize the droplets to they can be inhaled easily. Steam inhalations are a more direct way to deliver the essential oils to lung tissues. Some of the most well known essential oils for lung health are eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint. Eucalyptus works as a decongestant, while peppermint and lavender help prevent infection. Other essential oils such as camphor and menthol have been shown to improve airflow into lungs for those having trouble breathing.

So for those brave firefighters in Northern Alberta, we hope you stay safe and your lungs are healthy and clear.

Image by © Giorgio Magini via Adobe Stock

References:

Burrow, A., Eccles, R., Jones, A.S. (1983)The effects of camphor, eucalyptus and menthol vapour on nasal resistance to airflow and nasal sensation.Acta Otolaryngol. 1983 Jul-Aug;96(1-2):157-61.

Eccles, R., Jones, A.S. (1983)The effect of menthol on nasal resistance to air flow.J Laryngol Otol. 1983 Aug;97(8):705-9.

Papinchak, H.L.,Holcomb, E.J., Best, T.O., & Decoteau, D.R.  (2009) Effectiveness of Houseplants in Reducing the Indoor Air Pollutant Ozone. HortTechnology vol. 19 no. 2 286-290.

Richie JP Jr, Nichenametla S, Neidig W, Calcagnotto A, Haley JS, Schell TD et al (2014) Randomized controlled trial of oral glutathione supplementation on body stores of glutathione. Eur J Nutr.

Rushworth GF, Megson IL. Existing and potential therapeutic uses for N-acetylcysteine: the need for conversion to intracellular glutathione for antioxidant benefits. Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Feb;141(2):150-9

Woodson et al. (2012) Diagnosis and treatment of inhalation injury. Total Burn Care, Chapter 19, 229-237.e3