Reducing the Amount of Polluted Air We Breathe
"Air pollution is a worldwide issue, and 9 out of 10 people are currently living in areas where air pollution is constantly at an unhealthy level."
Today’s live with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, is the second of her two-part series exploring the pollution around us, including the pollution we don’t see and how it affects our health. Learn shocking facts about the impact of outdoor pollution, and what we can do to minimize its negative effects. Plus get survival tips like when to exercise and even when to cook, as well as the safest ways to commute.
- 03:49: Pollution Facts
- 09:57: The Potential Health Impact of Air Pollution
- 16:52: Tips for Reducing the Amount of Air Pollution You Breathe
- 17:01: Go Green with Your Commute
- 18:44: Use “Clean” Cleaning Products
- 20:05: Use Caution When Exercising Outdoors
- 25:13: Reduce Inflammation
- 28:00: Go Green With Your Grill
- 30:03: What Is Being Done About All This Air Pollution?
- 33:10: Wrap-Up
The first thing we should talk about is some background information to help us understand the severity of what we’re dealing with when it comes to our polluted environment. Most of us know that pollution is a major global issue, but many don’t know just how serious it is, because it’s not in the news every day.
Let’s first go over some little-known pollution trivia.
- Ninety-one percent of the world’s population lives in a place considered to have a significant level of air pollution. That means 9 out of 10 people are breathing in high levels of pollutants every day.
- Los Angeles is the most polluted city in the United States. While New York, Philadelphia, and Denver also rank in the top 25 of most polluted cities in America, Los Angeles, California takes the cake when it comes to having the most high ozone days. That means weather conditions commingle with pollution emissions and cause high ozone levels close to the ground which may cause health issues.
- On the other end of the spectrum, Anchorage, Alaska is the cleanest city in the U.S., boasting the fewest number of high ozone days — an average of 0.3 days between 2015 and 2017, compared to LA’s average of 119 in that same time frame.
- Each year, 1.2 trillion gallons of waste are dumped into our water systems and waterways, contributing to health problems, the death of sea vegetation, birds, and mammals, and making some water sources too polluted for swimming and fishing, let alone drinking.
- Every year, over 4 million people die as a result of outdoor air pollution. Notice, that’s only outdoor air pollution. As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, nearly the same amount of people — 3.8 million, to be exact — die as a result of indoor air pollution.
The Potential Health Impact of Air Pollution
Air pollution is mostly the result of three specific specific contributors: particulate matter (inhalable particles at least 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair), ozone, and carbon monoxide. Exposure to these pollutants can have serious negative consequences for your health:
Ozone is an irritant to the respiratory system and impairs lung function and lung defense mechanisms. It may be hard to imagine that pollution could be invisible, but ozone is. It the least-well-controlled pollutant in the United States, and it is also one of the most dangerous. Scientists have studied the effects of ozone on health for decades, with hundreds of studies confirming that ozone harms people at the levels currently found in the U.S. today. In the last few years, we've learned just how deadly it can be.
Often called "smog," ozone is harmful to breathe. It aggressively attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. When ozone is present, there are other harmful pollutants created by the same processes that make ozone.
You may remember from high school that the ozone layer is found high in the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere), and shields us from much of the sun's ultraviolet radiation. That’s not the ozone we’re talking about — it’s ozone air pollution at ground level where we can breathe it that causes serious health problems.
Where does this ground level ozone come from?
Well, it develops from gases that come out of tailpipes, smokestacks and many other sources. It’s when these gases come in contact with sunlight, that they react and form ozone, or smog. Remember this is invisible pollution — you can’t see it, but it’s quite serious to your health.
The principal source of this is cars. Carbon monoxide can cause issues related to proper oxygen-binding to your red blood cells, which means decreased energy levels in your cells and much more inflammation in your body
The World Health Organization (WHO), has established guidelines used for measuring air quality. The guidelines measure particulate matter found in the air, primarily from:
- Automobile exhaust
- Emission from factories
- Cigarette smoke
- Cement dust
- Mold spores
When this particulate matter remains suspended in the air for a period of time it can lead to a number of health issues, like:
- Trouble breathing
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Heart disease
In fact, air pollution is is reported to be a factor in
- 29% of lung cancer deaths
- 24% stroke deaths
- 25% deaths from heart disease
- 43% deaths from lung disease
The most common sources of air pollution include:
- Power plants
- Construction sites
- Unpaved roads
- The agriculture industry
Unfortunately, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid everything on this list, like cars and construction sites. So, what can you do to reduce the amount of air pollution you might be ingesting?
Tips for Reducing the Amount of Air Pollution You Breathe
Go Green With Your Commute
Use public transportation, or carpool. If possible, on low smog days, walk or bike to work. Make sure your car tires are properly inflated and your car is properly tuned up to keep it running efficiently. This is especially important on those Action Days when air pollution is expected to be especially high.
Get gas after dusk and limit the amount of time you sit with your engine idling. Run errands during off-hours when there aren’t as many cars on the road and try to strategically map out your stops, so you don’t have to keep turning your car on and off.
Use “Clean” Cleaning Products
Certain cleaning products are made with smog-forming chemicals that evaporate into the air when you use them. Choose cleaning products that either do not evaporate easily into the environment or use them in such a way that evaporation into the air is kept to a minimum.
We always recommend using cleaning products that are all-natural and environmentally friendly.
Use Caution When Exercising Outdoors
In areas where air pollution is known to be high, or on days when air pollution is particularly high in your area, the combination of air pollution with exercise can increase your risk of developing health problems. This is because you have to breathe more deeply and take in more air when you exercise when the air is polluted. You also more than likely take in these big gulps of air through your mouth and not through your nose where toxins typically get filtered out in the nasal passages.
On Action Days (again that means on days when you know air quality is going to be poor), hit the gym instead or do your workout at home.
Air pollution levels tend to be at their peak during midday, so opt for an early morning or evening workout.
If you live in a city, avoid exercising during rush hour so you’re not breathing in all that exhaust and fumes from traffic.
Did you know that pollution levels in cities are highest within ¼ mile of any road? If you can, find a bike or wooded trail away from the hustle and bustle to do your workout. And make sure you warm up before you hit the road for a run — warm up your lungs by performing an effective aerobic warm-up. For those with asthma, this can help prevent a decline in lung function that asthmatics often experience in polluted air.
We recommend at least 5 minutes of dynamic warm-up, not just for people with asthma, but for anyone who’s about to exercise in a high pollution environment.
Whatever you are planning to do — run, bike, or swim — begin by doing the activity and movement patterns at a low, slow pace that gradually increases in speed and intensity. What you are looking for is a warmup that gets your lungs and heart pumping a little bit faster, might result in a mild sweating, but generally won't leave you tired or fatigued.
Here are some examples of warm-up activities:
- To warm up for a brisk walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes.
- To warm up for a run, walk briskly for five to 10 minutes.
- To warm up for swimming, swim slowly at first and then pick up the tempo as you're able.
And if you already have asthma, diabetes, or a heart condition, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about the safest times and ways to exercise.
We already discussed how exposure to certain pollutants contributes to inflammation in your lungs and a number of other areas of your body. The amount of air pollution in our environment is not going to improve, at least not overnight, so let’s make sure we are doing everything we can to minimize the impact of air pollution on our health. That includes taking steps to minimize the amount of inflammation in your lungs and throughout your body.
Less Inflammation In + More Inflammation Out = A Healthier You
Go Green With Your Grill
As with your car, there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to grilling outdoors. For instance, use an electric charcoal starter or natural lighter fluid to start your grill fire. Avoid using self-lighting charcoal or petroleum-based lighter fluids, as these emit chemicals that easily turn into air pollution.
Use a gas or natural-gas grill, since these are cleaner options and more energy efficient compared to charcoal grills.
If you absolutely love the way your food grills using charcoal, go the extra mile and splurge on natural charcoal or charcoal made from waste wood, free of additives and binders.
Don’t let your grill burn longer than you have to — be ready to cook your food as soon as that grill is preheated. After, be sure to clean the grill regularly to prevent build-up that can lead to excess smoke. One way to prevent a lot of that build-up is to trim the fat off any meat you’re cooking. Not only will that make your food healthier, but it will reduce flare-ups, which put harmful chemicals into the air.
What Is Being Done About All This Air Pollution?
Remember 91% of the population lives in an area with a high concentration of air pollution. This is a global issue, and one that is being addressed in a number of ways.
In the U.S., the Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA), to set air quality standards pertaining to particulate matter. The EPA has established what are considered acceptable, safe levels. To find out what the air quality is in your area on any given day, you can go to www.airnow.gov and search by zip code or state and see whether or not the air quality is:
- Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (this includes children, seniors, and those already dealing with a lung condition)
- Very Unhealthy
- An Action Day
An action day means the air quality has veered into the danger zone and is considered unhealthy for people, and most notably, it is especially deemed unhealthy for those sensitive groups — children, seniors, and people with pre-existing respiratory issues.
Countries around the globe are scrambling to address our current air pollution issues by looking into renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and implementing restricted driving laws and other initiatives designed to cut down on smog and air pollution levels. Unfortunately for us, that’s not going to improve in the next week, month, or year — maybe not even for the next decade — so, it’s up to us to take steps to manage the direct effect air pollution has on our health!
This concludes part 2 of Dr. Nancy’s Pollution Series. Today, we focused primarily on outdoor air pollution and the health risks it poses. When air pollution reaches unhealthy levels, it can lead to:
- Eye irritation
- Lung disease
- Heart disease
Air pollution is a worldwide issue, and 9 out of 10 people are currently living in areas where air pollution is constantly at an unhealthy level.
Some things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing health issues associated with air pollution include:
- Check the air quality in your area at www.airnow.gov
- Carpool to work
- Get gas after dark
- Map out your errands to avoid excessive stops and starts
- Exercise away from busy streets and avoid working out outside during rush hour
- Use non-toxic cleaning and gardening chemicals
- Opt for a natural gas grill over charcoal
- Trim excess fat off meat prior to grilling to avoid flare-ups
- Clean your grill regularly
Remember to take your Smarter Curcurmin and eat foods that support your body’s effort to reduce the harmful effects of inflammation.