Counteracting the Toxic Effects of Wildfire Smoke Inhalation

It is fall in Northern California and where I use to write about the lovely fall weather and changing colorful leaves of the season, in the past 4 years our focus here is tragically different.  The wildfire season has dominated our lives and is ever present. Like me, you may feel weary at times with the threatening weather, heat, loss of power, constant evacuations and loss all around us. It is definitely a time to be sure we are engaged in self care for body, mind and spirit. For me, my daily practices are critical for me to move into and thru each day with the focus and energy needed.

My heart goes out to everyone who has lost lives of family, friends, pets, your homes and property during this difficult time. Keep up your courage and reach out for the support you need.

In this issue I want to share some things that can help our physical bodies during these smokey days and I hope you find it useful. Choose what strikes you as most helpful for your body right now.

Smoke exposure can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like:

* Irritated sinuses

* Itchy/burning eyes

* Runny nose

* Shortness of breath

* Headaches

* Feeling of throat irritation

* Coughing

* Fatigue

* Chest pain

* Dizziness

* Confusion

Wildfire smoke is a combination of fine particles, water vapors, and gases which cause irritation to the sensitive mucosal lining of our respiratory tract. One process of negative consequence is thru oxidative stress to body cells. Obviously the large particles of ash are an issue but a major real concern is the fine particles.  Particulate matter that is 10 micrometers or less in diameter is one of the biggest health hazards.  They are so small you can’t see them. They contain carcinogenic materials. Yet by wearing an N-95 mask with a particulate respirator, you protect yourself and they are trapped in the mask. (When in public due to covid you need to cover the respirator with another filter to protect others from you).  This week I went to put on the N95 I had used the day before and it smelled so toxic due to these particles that it was clear it’s useful life was over.  Throw them out when they get to this point! Gases in this smoke include carbon monoxide, acrolein, and formaldehyde which all have toxic effects on the body. By supporting your body’s natural detox processes you can get bad pollutants and harmful toxins OUT of the body.  

The body has 4 ways of Detoxing:

* Skin/Sweat

* Lungs/Breath

* Kidneys/Urine

* Colon/Bowel Movements

1. Drink LOTS of water and include hot liquids that help mucous membranes

When microscopic particles from wildfire smoke get trapped in your lungs they can get into your blood stream and travel throughout your body contaminating other organs and causing damage. Water helps to flush these particles out of your system.  A good goal is at least 10  8oz glasses per day – if you want to really detox 12-14 glasses.  (Adjust up or down based on body size).  Particles of this size also tend to accumulate in body fat – the more you have, the more toxins will get trapped. This requires more comprehensive detoxing which is best done with a knowledgeable clinician.

Hot teas such as green tea, Licorice, throat coat tea – especially with Slippery Elm and Marshmallow Root, ginger, turmeric, peppermint – help the respiratory tract. These hot fluids help the cilia, fine hair like structures of the lining of the respiratory tract, to move particles out.

Teas with bitter herbs help detox the colon- Dandelion, Yellow Dock, burdock root, turmeric, gentian.

2. Diet – choose high quality whole foods to provide a mixture of natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties

The body during this time is under stress and requires more vitamins and minerals to maintain good body function.  Foods that are helpful include:

Ginger (a great detoxifier), onions, garlic, apples, broccoli, cabbage, beets, brussel sprouts, strawberries, turmeric, Satsumas, Pomegranates, and to support the lungs eat mustard, turnips, radish, Wasabi, Cayenne, Grapefruit, (ginger, garlic, turmeric).

Promoting detox thru kidneys – Lemon juice, Dandelion tea, other teas above, nettle tea, Parsley, watermelon, pumpkin seeds, blueberries, asparagus, Cilantro.

3. Get plenty of rest and sleep

This helps support good immune function, healthy adrenal responses and all body processes. You’ll feel better able to cope, too.

4. Take supplements that are antioxidants and some that improve Glutathione levels

Vit C, Vit D, Selenium, Glutathione or NAC.  Glutatione protects your cellular DNA, supports the liver in detoxifying toxins found in smoke, and helps to prevent liver damage from smoke inhalation. NAC is a precursor to Glutathione (you don’t need both) and can break down and eliminate mucus from the lungs. Talk with your clinician about dosing.

5. Take off your shoes before entering your home

Your shoes will bring in all sorts of nasty pollutants that fell on the ground. Don’t bring in toxic material!

6. Do not smoke or allow others around you to smoke around you. Avoid burning candles. Avoid excess sweeping or vacuuming.

This only aggravates body irritations discussed above.

7. Stay indoors when the air quality is “very poor” or “hazardous”, which is anything over 150 on the AQI. 

Even levels above 66 can be problematic for high risk individuals.  Do not exercise outside and be careful even inside when these levels exist.  If you smell smoke, it is a good indicator the air quality is not healthy for exercise. When the air outside appears smoky, it doesn’t just reduce visibility or add an unpleasant smell to the air, it actually reduces the quality of the air your body receives and increases the amount of particles you take in. Any exercise you do will increase the amount of air you breathe in including these toxins. Therefore, it is not advisable to run or do aerobic exercise outdoors in smoky conditions. Whenever you are outside wear an N95 mask to filter out as much particulate and toxic matter as possible.

If you are in a high risk category, you will likely have stronger negative reactions:

* Lung disease including asthma

* Allergies

* Heart disease

* Pregnant women

* Young children

* Elderly adults

If you choose to exercise even when it’s smoky, know the risks you are taking. Consider doing low-impact indoor exercise during these times. Indoor HEPA air filters if appropriate to room size can be beneficial in filtering out fine particles. Clean your air filters.  Put systems on “Recirculate” rather than  “Outside Air”

8. Use a saline nasal spray. Rinse your sinus with a Neti Pot.  Breath in steam with Thyme.

Saline nasal spray moistens and soothes the nasal passages and helps promote your getting rid of foreign matter. A Neti Pot provides a natural nasal rinse to help get rid of pollutants and keep some from going down into the lungs. Physical actions of Thyme include anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal.  This can help expel foreign substances, clear passageways, and reduce irritation.  Put 2 TBSP Thyme in large bowel, add building water, create a tent over it with a towel, lower you head and vent it to your nose and mouth while you breath in the steam for 1-3 minutes and repeat as needed. (You can substitute essential oil of Thyme 3-5 drops and others that are beneficial include Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Tea Tree Oil)

9. If your health allows: Sauna therapy and detox baths with Epsom salts or apple cider vinegar

One thing is clear, it seems we can’t avoid exposure in Northern California but it’s important to know that we certainly can help our body eliminate the toxins and choose to limit our exposures.

Even as we deal with the inconveniences the wildfire smoke causes we need to remember that we are fortunate to be alive. Our prayers and good wishes go out to everyone who has been impacted. May we find courage to move forward with whatever changes are needed to reduce these tragic fall incidences so that we all can live more healthfully and happily and support our natural environment in one of the most beautiful areas of the world.

Take courage, we are in this together and we will find ways to cope.

Jane