Nutrition and Poor Air Quality

As I write this the air quality outside has reached over 200 = “very unhealthy.”  Washington, Oregon, and Montana are all experiencing wide spread wildfires and my thoughts are with the men and women fighting fires and for the families whose homes are threatened.  Even for those of us that aren’t in the direct path of the fire we are still at risk due to the prolonged and worsening air quality.  Clean air, water and food are integral to our health and the excessive inflammation that is caused by even minimal exposure can have a significant effect on a person’s current and long term health.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

While inflammation itself is NOT a bad thing, in this case we are talking about excessive inflammation that, if left unchecked, is often a root cause for significant health concerns down the road.

Even though you may think you are outside of the “at risk” group for poor air quality (children, elderly, asthmatics etc) new research in the field of nutrigenomics is finding that air pollution can affect genetic expression in individuals with certain gene mutations.  Unless you are an expert in the field of genetics you probably don’t know how your body is responding on a cellular level to the change in air quality.

While I could talk genetics and inflammation for days I would rather focus on the good and the change so here is the core of the problem:

Poor air quality ↑ inflammation

Inflammation ↑ oxidative stress

Oxidative stress = SUPER not awesome

Luckily there are a whole host of foods that can reduce inflammation and combat oxidative stress by reducing free radicals and thus permanent damage.  Here are a few of the targeted foods / nutrients I’m increasing in my family while we battle the poor air quality and why.


We all know that to increase our health we should eat more green stuff.  For this list broccoli is winning the game with something called “sulforaphane.” Sulforaphane has been shown to reduce the inflammatory effects of oxidative stress by safely and effectively inducing mucosal enzyme expression in the upper airway (Reidl et al, 2009).  I often get asked how best to cook foods (or not cook them) to preserve nutrients.  Here is a great write up on the best way to exploit the sulforaphane in broccoli and not destroy it in the cooking process!

Omega 3’s:

A study was done to measure how omega 3 supplementation affected individuals exposed to a certain range of PM2.5 air quality and the adverse side affects associated with that level of exposure.  The study showed significant modulation of the biomarkers related to oxidative stress and inflammation caused by poor air quality with increased omega 3, particularly those that had fish oil as the form of omega 3 (Romieui et al, 2008).

Wild caught fish, nuts, and seeds as well as local fresh eggs can be excellent sources of omega 3’s.  For more info on foods, portion sizes and even some recipes with omega 3’s click here.

B Vitamins:

Man I love these guys.  Energy, metabolic functions, protective properties…they are real classy dudes.  Autonomic function and cardiovascular health are significantly affected by poor air quality and research shows that vitamin B supplementation not only has a protective affect on the body during exposure but even potentially a restorative affect as well (Zhong et al¸ 2017).  I often recommend a B-complex supplement for clients to restore their levels but here are some good food sources for the B’s with some recipes as well.


Makes sense that to combat oxidative stress you would use “ANTI-oxidants.”  To date, several studies have suggested that some harmful effects of air pollution may be modified by intake of essential micronutrients such as vitamins C and E (Peter et al¸ 2015).  Click here for a rainbow smoothie recipe that is packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants to support a healthy inflammatory response and reduce the burden on your body that is caused by gross air!

Péter, S., Holguin, F., Wood, L. G., Clougherty, J. E., Raederstorff, D., Antal, M., … Eggersdorfer, M. (2015). Nutritional Solutions to Reduce Risks of Negative Health Impacts of Air Pollution. Nutrients7(12), 10398–10416.
Riedl MA, Saxon A, Diaz-Sanchez D. Oral sulforaphane increases Phase II antioxidant enzymes in the human upper airway. Clin Immunol. 2009 Mar;130(3):244-51. doi: 10.1016/j.clim.2008.10.007. Epub 2008 Nov 22.
Romieu, I., Garcia-Esteban, R., Sunyer, J., Rios, C., Alcaraz-Zubeldia, M., Velasco, S. R., & Holguin, F. (2008). The Effect of Supplementation with Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Markers of Oxidative Stress in Elderly Exposed to PM2.5Environmental Health Perspectives116(9), 1237–1242.
Zhong, J., Trevisi, L., Urch, B., Lin, X., Speck, M., Coull, B. A., … Baccarelli, A. A. (2017). B-vitamin Supplementation Mitigates Effects of Fine Particles on Cardiac Autonomic Dysfunction and Inflammation: A Pilot Human Intervention Trial. Scientific Reports7, 45322.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: