In an industrialized country like the United States, factories, plants, and vehicles operating on gasoline are just the norm. But, have you ever stopped to think about how these things impact the environment and air we breathe? Just because you can’t see toxic air pollution, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there negatively impacting the functioning of our bodies.
To create a better picture, studies suggest that around 50% of Americans live in areas that receive a failing score in terms of quantity of chemical exposure in pollutants and other compounds. Most of the world, around 91%, lives in places where the air quality exceeds guidelines set forth by WHO, or the World Health Organization. Shockingly, it is believed that around 3.8 million people die every year from household pollution exposure alone, begging the question of what can be done to combat this?
Why is Clean Air Important and Toxic Air Pollution Terrible?
Before diving into how to protect oneself from toxic air pollution, it’s important to understand why clean air is critical for the body. The main need for clean air is that it provides oxygen to the body which drives molecular mechanisms producing energy. This process is called oxidative phosphorylation and it helps to heal, repair, and maintain the body.
Oxygen feeds every organ of the body including the brain, muscles, heart, spleen, liver, and kidneys. On average, a person will breathe in 11,000 liters of air a day. Unfortunately, this will likely contain several harmful chemicals.
Those at Greatest Risk
While the data shows that pretty much everyone is at risk of harmful exposure to pollution, some have elevated risks due to where they live. This can include those living in a major city, those near major freeways and thoroughfares (due to car exhaust), and those who regularly must deal with forest fires (specifically California). Unfortunately, most standard air filters are unable to trap ultra-fine particles like those found in these toxins, like smoke, gases, methane, and benzene.
Toxin Air Pollution Inside the Home
While most people may think of pollution as the toxins they come into contact with outside, inside of the home actually tends to be even more dangerous. This is because the toxins are contained in a smaller space and are therefore more concentrated than those on the outside. When homes are new with tight seals around the house, specifically windows and doors, these are especially dangerous for pollution.
Additionally, certain AC units will circulate air already in the home rather than bringing it in from the outside, causing a greater concentration as well. So where are these toxins coming from? The following are just some of the sources of chemicals infiltrating what individuals are breathing in every day:
- New furniture, rugs, or paint
- Dry cleaned clothing
- Cleaning products
- Glade plug-in and room fresheners
- Pet dander
- Pollen and dust mites
- Carpet, upholstery, and curtains
- Cigarette and marijuana smoking
Impact of Toxic Pollution on Health
As previously mentioned, chemicals, toxins, and pollution typically can’t be seen, making many people feel that it’s not a threat to their health. However, not taking steps to minimize the toxins being breathed in on a regular basis can have catastrophic effects on the body. These include:
- COPD and Asthma
- Airway inflammation – This reduces the ability of oxygen to reach the lungs and the rest of the body.
- Heart Disease – While not often associated with heart issues, the heart depends on oxygen to function. Therefore, receiving polluted oxygen can cause heart disease.
- Stroke – Studies are beginning to link strokes to poor air quality.
- Accelerated aging – Pollutants can affect the telomeres found on DNA which leads to DNA unraveling and accelerating the aging process.
- Liver Damage – The liver helps to filter toxins from the body and can become burdened by excess filtration of chemicals.
- Inflammation of the skin
- Increased risk of Alzheimer’s in children
- Destruction of internal tissues – Many chemicals inhaled are prooxidants and can damage or destroy internal tissues. Antioxidants and zinc are necessary to combat these.
- The immune system is always on to combat harmful chemicals. This worsens pre-existing autoimmune diseases.
How to Minimize the Impact of Pollution
Unfortunately, in this day and age, pollutants are not going to be eliminated any time soon. Therefore, it’s important to learn steps to minimize their existence at work, home, and even in the car.
Some steps that can help do so include:
- Letting new items, such as rugs or furniture, air out in the garage before bringing them in
- Using environmentally friendly cleaning products
- Changing filters regularly
- Eliminating smoking inside the home
- Opening the windows regularly to rid the home of pollutants
- Having adequate ventilation if using a gas stove or gas fireplace
- Investing in indoor plants to rid rooms of harmful chemicals
- Purchasing an air-purifying unit that has a filter with less than .3 microns, has an activated carbon base and potassium permanganate, and a high CADR, or clean air delivery rate.
Where Does Food Come in?
Since pollution cannot be eliminated completely, it’s important for individuals to do what they can to maintain proper health in order for their bodies to rid themselves of these toxins. Poor food choices affect the immune system and over utilizes resources, therefore, allowing the body to not handle these harmful chemicals well. Processed foods already contain toxins, so combining those with air toxins can overload the body and can result in detrimental effects.
Fortunately, even though air quality can’t be 100% controlled, the diet can be. This means that changing the diet, ingesting more whole, clean foods can make an individual more tolerable to poor air quality because the body will have the antioxidant power needed to detoxify.
Take Small Steps
While the subject of air pollution may seem quite overwhelming, especially since there is no direct solution, there are steps that can be taken to eliminate it from your life. Start with making one change and as that becomes habit make another change. While you may not notice a drastic physical improvement, these small changes will improve the health of you and your family in the long run.