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Last updated on November 11th, 2018
You might have heard about fires ravaging Northern California. As our air quality across the whole Bay Area (this is the picture I just took in our backyard on a sunny day) is unhealthy, I wanted to send a few quick tips on how to protect your health. And if you are not in Northern California, you might benefit from this information, too, because outdoor and indoor air pollution is bad for some people every day.
The EPA monitors air quality and assigns an index number to it. You can access it here. Type your zip code, and you will get your air quality report instantly.
I think it is important to understand that the smoke in the air includes particles and gasses. All smoke contains ash and soot, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Smoke also contains very harmful chemicals such as aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals, and dioxins. Most of them are associated with increased cancer risks.
The Health Department of New York has lots of resources on the health effects of smoke from fires and how to protect yourself.
When you see people walking around in masks, normally those masks protect from particles – not gasses and vapors (source). The masks that protect from particles of smoke are called particulate respirators. The California Department of Public Health put together a flyer on how to wear these masks correctly. You can access it here.
A variety of particulate respirators are sold on Amazon as well.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a lot of helpful information on how to choose and wear a correct mask/respirator. You can access it here.
Per the California Department of Public Health, choose a mask called a “particulate respirator” that has the word “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “P100” printed on it. And make sure they have two straps that go around your head.
Here is a good option that I found on Amazon:
When your air quality reaches “unhealthy” on the index, it is a good idea to stay indoors and run your in-home filtration system. Know that HVAC filters won’t protect you fully because HVAC home filters normally filter out particles, viruses, and mold. They are not as good with gasses.
Mobile air purifiers are good for both. Normally, those filters include two technologies: HEPA and carbon-based technology. HEPA filters protect from particles and carbon filters protect from gasses. I recommend well-established brands such as Austin Air. You can buy them on the Pure Living Space website, and get an additional 10% off by clicking on this link, or by providing them with the discount code “ReadLabels10” at checkout. Know that this is a small business owned by a wife and her husband who provide good customer service, so do not hesitate to ask them questions.
My doctor Myrto Ashe, MD just sent an email with helpful tips on how to protect your health from the smoke with diet and supplements.
This is what she said:
“I would recommend people focus more on diet. Antioxidants are in colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, so now is the best time ever to focus on the “colors of the rainbow”, with something from each category (yellow, orange, red, green and brown/tan) every day. For total amounts, I would say 5-10 cups of produce daily. I would also focus on darker foods, blueberries and blackberries, black rice, purple potatoes, cocoa nibs, dark chocolate, and lots of spices, herbs, and green tea.
Of course, there are subtleties here:
wild blueberries are much better – they are small and purple all the way through – perhaps hard to find this time of year
Endangered Species chocolate has more flavanols than Green and Black’s; other brands may also be great, they have not all been tested
You want 4 cups of green tea daily
You may want to consider superfoods like acai, maqui powder, chia seed, mulberries, goji berries, and make some smoothies
In terms of supplements, we know N-acetyl cysteine helps patients with lung disease. Omega 3s, probiotics, and magnesium are anti-inflammatory. I personally will add some Meriva or Longvida curcumin, and some acetyl or liposomal glutathione.” (source)
I buy and take regularly N-acetyl cysteine and magnesium by Pure Encapsulations from Vitacost. I talked to Vitacost and trust that they store them properly. I also take this fish oil by Nordic Naturals because they make it from very small fish and purify it from environmental toxins.
Summary of How to Protect Yourself from Smoke in the Air
- Obviously, it is best to leave the area impacted with an unhealthy air quality index.
2. Stay indoors and run all available filters to protect yourself from both particles and gasses.
3. When outside, wear a particulate respirator that has two straps and the word “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “P100” printed on it.
4. Limit running any A/C or heater that would be pulling air from outside. Although if you recycle the same air you can run into the risk of low oxygen. So you have to make that call as to how much air to bring from outside.
5. Drink a lot of water to flush out toxins and stay hydrated as smoke dehydrates the body.
6. Follow dietary guidelines that Dr. Myrto Ashe provided.
7. Take supplements.
The Water Bottle Filter You Can Use
And now, I wanted to talk about water. If you have to evacuate or travel, you might not have access to filtered water. The quality of bottled water is poorly regulated and it is normally packaged in plastic.
The Aquasana water bottle filters deal with lead and other heavy metals – not just chlorine.
Stay healthy. And please share if you know of other resources to protect yourself from smoke in the air, or to provide filtered water while traveling.
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