Nutrients to Combat Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke & Support Detox
by Liz Riesen, RD, CD, CLT
Wildfire smoke has become a widespread concern as we see the haze in the sky and hear the air-quality warnings on the news. The exposure to wildfire smoke poses environmental hazards from combustion to air pollution, and even the byproducts such as ash that we can breathe in. According to the EPA, wildfire smoke particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller in size pose the greatest health concern. You can read the EPA’s entire guide on the “Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke” here.
Ingestion of air pollutants along with other chemicals and toxins commonly found in our environment these days are going to activate an inflammatory response within the body, create free radicals that damage tissue and cellular health, and burden the liver.
There have also been complaints of dry, irritated skin by individuals who have never had skin issues before. According to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide can permeate the skin and leach water from the skin leaving it dry and irritated. These toxins will also stimulate inflammatory pathways and increase aging of skin. Air pollution will also decrease our body’s ability to produce vitamin D, so it’s important to know your vitamin D status in case you need to supplement.
Important Nutrients for Fighting Inflammation and Toxin Exposure
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, and cabbage. They contain a powerful compound that is credited for its role in detox is called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane boosts antioxidant enzymes in the upper airway to help fight off oxidative stress (damage) that develops after breathing polluted air. (1) Broccoli sprouts in particular, have a form of sulforaphane that can reduce the allergic response in our nasal passages from PM 2.5 particles. (2) Broccoli can help increase excretion of airborne pollutants from the body, particularly those that are carcinogenic. (3)
NAC is the supplement form of the amino acid cysteine. NAC is required to make glutathione in the body, which is our master antioxidant. Glutathione plays a major role in detox; helping the body eliminate free radicals that will damage cells, tissue, and organs. Glutathione also helps eliminate toxins that are commonly found in our diet and environment including pesticides, chemicals, and pollutants including those produced by smoke.
NAC helps relieve respiratory symptoms by reducing inflammation in the bronchial tubes. It is considered mucolytic and antioxidant drug that influences several key inflammatory pathways. (4) For these reasons, NAC may help decrease the severity of respiratory symptoms and inflammation in the body.
Vitamins C and E
While they are categorized as vitamins, vitamin C and E are actually powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants protect our body from oxidative stress which is created when toxins, including air pollutants, enter the body. Vitamin C helps protect enzymes in the liver required for phase I and phase II detoxification pathways. Vitamin C also the liver’s tissues from oxidative damage, clears toxins from our bloodstream, and helps produce bile acids which transport toxins out of our liver. (5) Vitamin E protects our mitochondria and replenishes our body’s antioxidant stores that deplete with increased toxin exposure. When vitamins C and E are used together, they can help prevent respiratory damage caused by ozone.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Exposure to air pollution is associated with elevated cardiovascular risk. Evidence shows that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 PUFA) may attenuate the adverse cardiovascular effects of exposure to fine particulate matter. (6) Omega 3 fatty acids work by producing metabolites that become strong anti-inflammatory agents in the body. Omega 3 fatty acids are absolutely necessary in helping fight inflammation in the body.
How can you support your body’s detox and immune system?
1. Starting with the obvious here, but when air quality is poor and you see haze or smoke outside then you should limit your time outside and definitely avoid any strenuous activity or exercise outdoors.
2. Purchase an air purifier for inside your home and workplace where you are spending the majority of your time. Choose a purifier that has a HEPA purifier. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate air” and should remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns (µm). Consumer Labs recently reviewed top air purifiers and share their report here.
3. Incorporate these foods into your weekly diet.
Cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, and cabbage. If you can find or grow your own broccoli sprouts (most potent and beneficial form of sulforaphane)
Vitamin C rich foods include: citrus fruits, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, strawberries, red bell pepper, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango
Vitamin E rich foods include: almonds, avocado, olive oil, spinach, sunflower seeds, butternut squash, broccoli, kiwi, pumpkin
Omega 3 fatty acids are going to be the highest and most bioavailable form in cold-water fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines
4. Eat a diet high in antioxidants and fiber.
The classic “eat the rainbow” recommendation is not just to help kids eat fruits and veggies. The colors in our produce actually tell us what antioxidants are present. For example, blue and purple hues (grapes, blueberries, eggplant, etc.) are from antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins help slow cellular aging and protect heart health. How many colors were in your last meal?
5. If you have a high toxin load you may benefit from supplement forms of these nutrients.
Wondering what your potential toxin load is? Fill out this Toxicity Questionnaire to find out!
If you’re interested in the SP Detox Balance protocol, there is a 28-day option or a shorter 10-day option and Standard Process offers helpful resources on healthy foods and recipes to incorporate while on the protocol.
Liz Riesen, Registered Dietitian
works specifically with women's hormones, inflammation, and gut health. Often these conditions coexist and share common disruptive symptoms including fatigue, bloating, weight gain, anxiety, irregular cycles, and other inflammatory symptoms.
Liz is trained in identifying and healing food sensitivities, as well as balancing hormones naturally through nutrition and lifestyle. Follow me @moms.hormone.dietitian