All of us living in today’s climate know that air pollution is a major public health issue. From the deadly smog in cities like Beijing and Mexico City, to the recent fires along the West Coast, our air quality is becoming more harmful to our health.
Moving away from cities may reduce your exposure to emission-based air pollutants, but other forms of air pollution may be unavoidable. Whether it’s caused by natural forces like wildfires, or industrial power plants, or even indoor pollution, it’s important to understand how air pollution affects your health, and what steps you can take to protect yourself.
Health Effects of Air Pollution
Because air pollution particles are so small, you can easily ingest them and cause damage to your system. Here are some of the most common health effects caused by air pollution:
Short term health effects of air pollution:
- Irritation of eyes, nose, throat, and lungs
- Shortness of breath
Long term health effects of air pollution:
- Worsening lung function
- Lung cancer
- Reproductive issues
- Heart Failure
And that’s just to name a few.
But if you do live in an area where you’re exposed to high levels of air pollution, there are preventative measures you can take to minimize your health risk.
Air Pollution Solutions
Foods that help protect you against air pollution
You might be thinking, “how can food protect me against air pollution?” While the two might seem unrelated, certain foods can fight the free radicals that enter your body through air pollution.
When free radicals enter your body, they cause oxidative stress. This leads to inflammation and long term health issues, like the ones mentioned earlier. In comes antioxidants.
Antioxidants are substances found in food with the ability to counter free radicals. Numerous studies (like this one) show that dietary antioxidant supplementation or increased ingestion of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables neutralize the effects of pollutants.
Here are some of the highest antioxidant food sources:
- Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants, so food rich in it should be consumed daily since they are water soluble (can’t be stored in your body). High levels of Vitamin C can be found in red bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, and kale.
- Polyphenols are another antioxidant powerhouse. Polyphenol-rich foods include olives, tea, organic coffee, and cacao/dark chocolate.
- Berries, especially blueberries, contain the highest amounts of antioxidants among all common household fruits and vegetables, according to this study.
- Açai is another form of berry that contains high levels of antioxidants. However, this one is harder to come by in the United States and is commonly found in powder or frozen puree form. (Side note: make sure you get the unsweetened variety, since many of these are commercially produced and can come pre-sweetened.)
- Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects cells against free radical damage. Foods rich in Vitamin E include avocados, nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens.
- Kelp noodles, especially these Konaberry kelp noodles, claim to have 6x more antioxidants than açai and 100x more antioxidants than blueberries. A great substitute for noodles in soups and stir frys, without the seaweed taste!
Other ways to protect yourself against air pollution
- Stay hydrated to help flush out your system of pollutants.
- Avoid going outdoors when the air quality indicates unsafe levels (measures above 50).
- When outdoor air levels are unsafe, keep the windows closed indoors.
- Change out your air filters often and make sure they are HEPA-approved to make sure you’re filtering as much air pollutants out as possible.
- Toss out artificial air fresheners and unsustainable candles. Instead, use aromatherapy diffusers with essential oils or beeswax candles that can neutralize free radicals in the air.
- Gargle and rinse your nose with clean water to minimize a buildup of particulate matter.
Final Thoughts: How Antioxidants Protect Your Health Against Air Pollution
If you want to know more about incorporating more antioxidants into your diet, try Yes Health free for 14 days and see what your health coaches recommend for you.
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