The 2016 Air Report found that more than 50% of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of particle pollution and poor air quality.
Recently, the European Union issued a “final warning” to Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain for failing to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide. Approximately 40% of nitrogen dioxide is a direct result of road traffic, with diesel fuel being the worst offender.
The countries next on the list for a final warning include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, and Portugal. Only five of the 28 EU member states – Ireland, Estonia, Malta, Cyprus, and Latvia – did not surpass the air pollution limits.
Is air pollution something we have grossly misunderestimated? Or perhaps profits have continued to influence regulation? Money won’t help you breathe, and everyone is affected by poor air quality. Clean water, clean food, and clean air should be non-negotiable topics in our society. Either way, we can no longer ignore it.
How Polluted is Your City?
Ozone (O3) develops in the atmosphere when gasses from fossil fuels like gasoline, oil or coal are burned, or when some chemicals, like solvents, evaporate. These react with sunlight to form smog. Within this smog is a host of other chemicals and heavy metals that combine for a toxic air cocktail.
If you live in the United States, you can go to the American Lung Association website and get a report card for your city to review air quality. Here are the top 10 worst cities for ozone pollution in the United States for 2016.
Ozone was first recognized in southern California, and as you can see, California continues to suffer. Other cities close to the top ten include Dallas/Fort Worth, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Cleveland, Houston, and Philidelphia. Not all hope is lost for California. The quality of the air has been improving in Los Angeles with the Clean Air Act, and if you are lucky enough to live along the water, the risk is reduced.
What are some of the cleanest cities with the least pollutants? (all received the same score)
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Utica, New York
What are the Health Effects and who are Most Susceptible to Air Pollution?
The EPA concluded that ozone pollution increased the rates of heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, respiratory harm, central nervous system damage (look at the increase of nervous system disorders), reproductive harm (look at the infertility rates now) and early death. Cardiovascular diseases continue to dominate health statistics, and while we pinpointed smoking as a primary cause, we have neglected to put air pollution on the same scale. What we don’t think about as much is how air pollution affects children’s health.
While air pollution harms everyone, certain groups are especially susceptible.
- Children and teens (elevated c-reactive protein levels were consistently found among children and among healthy adults)
- Adults over the age of 65
- Athletes who exercise outdoors, especially runners and bikers on the highways
- People with cardiovascular disease, and respiratory diseases like asthma, and COPD. There is consistency in the findings that relate the acute increases in urban air pollution (mainly the particulate matter) and the short-term health effects (i.e. mortality and hospital admissions) on patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Individuals with polymorphisms in the genes CAT, SOD2, HMOX-1 (precursor of bilirubin), GSTP1, and GSTM1
- Pregnant mothers and exposure may increase the risk of autism
- The ability of bees to forage for food has been disrupted by air pollution and is contributing to their decline
- Post-menopausal women prone to Alzheimer’s disease with the APOE4 genotype (A study from Nature found an increased risk for global cognitive decline and all-cause dementia respectively by 81% and 92% for older women breathing air that is heavily polluted by vehicle exhaust and other sources of fine particulates. The cognitive effects of air pollution are dramatically more pronounced in those with the APOE-e4 genotype).
Air Pollution Increases Autism Risk
A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that children born to mothers exposed to the highest levels of a busy highway or carbon monoxide and freeway pollution during pregnancy were twice as likely to develop autism than were children born to mothers exposed to the lowest levels. The researchers found the most significant association with autism when the exposure occurred during the third trimester.
It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the highest autism clusters are also found in the top polluted cities when looking at the mitochondrial dysfunction theory of autism. The autism rates in Los Angeles and San Francisco are double the rate of surrounding areas. New Jersey isn’t much further down the list for air pollution and has the highest rate of autism in the US (1 in 41).
The Ingredients of an Ozone Chemical Cocktail
Breathing ozone may increase your body’s response to other pollutants, particulate matter, and vice versa. On the east coast of the U.S., sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are two common pollutants. Both of these increase the sensitivity to ozone, creating a more toxic combination. If you have allergies, ozone will increase the severity of the allergic response.
The previous study found that ozone “may act as a surrogate indicator for this highly complex and geographically variable mixture and is likely to be an imperfect measure of potential toxicity.” These toxins include but not limited to mercury, lead, arsenic, VOC’s, peroxyacyl nitrates, nitrogen dioxide, styrene, chromium, cyanide, cadmium and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (also highest in grains and vegetable oils).
How to Protect Yourself Against Outdoor and Indoor Air Pollution
We are exposed to approximately 20,000 chemicals every day from outdoor air pollution and indoor air pollution. The surface of the lung is covered with a thin layer of fluid that contains a range of antioxidants that appear to provide the first line of defense against air pollutants. This makes the effects of air pollution and nutrition connected, especially to lung cancer.
One study found that the interaction of ozone with antioxidants showed a hierarchy towards ascorbic acid first, then uric acid and glutathione for ozone defense in human epithelial lining fluid.
Next, the protection moves to the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the primary site of intracellular oxygen consumption and the major source of free radical formation inside the cell. Therefore, protecting the lungs, liver cells and mitochondria are a priority for protecting against air pollution. To protect the mitochondria, you have to improve SOD2, SOD3, catalase, glutathione and uric acid.
1. Ozone (O3): Children and adults with multiple polymorphisms in antioxidant genes are going to be more susceptible to oxidative stress, low vitamin C levels and ozone toxicity. Maintaining optimal vitamin C levels through supplementation and vitamin E from the diet or a proper dose in a multivitamin is recommended along with polyphenol consumption (including milk thistle discussed later).
2. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2): Exposure of human blood plasma to nitrogen dioxide caused rapid losses of ascorbic acid, uric acid, protein thiol groups, lipid peroxidation and depletions of α-tocopherol, bilirubin, and ubiquinol leading to high levels of oxidative stress.
Bilirubin arises in the spleen, is a biomarker of liver function, and breaks down iron. Higher levels may indicate high oxidative stress associated with liver damage, however, low concentrations also seem to be a concern that doctors are overlooking. Optimal levels are inversely correlated with disease risk of heart disease, carotid plaque, stroke, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. One study found that researchers prevented bilirubin synthesis by eliminating the gene for hemeoxygenase (HMOX-1) they found twice the level of stroke damage in mice.
Supplementation with vitamin C decreased the rates of lipid peroxidation and oxidative stress, α-tocopherol depletion and loss of uric acid. A second fun way to increase depleted uric acid? Beer.
Another study also revealed that dietary uptake of tomato lycopene protects human cells against nitrogen dioxide-mediated damage and oxidative stress.
2. Peroxyacyl Nitrates (PAN): The toxicity of peroxyacyl nitrates is less than ozone, similar to nitrogen dioxide but higher than sulfur dioxide. While it hasn’t been researched yet, PAN is believed to be a significant source of toxicity to the skin and cause a synergistic effect of other toxins in the air.
Dandelion root extract has been showing to induce apoptosis in melanoma cells, and vitamin C has been found to have an epigenetic effect on melanoma cells, showing two potential sources of protection against the effects of air pollution.
3. Sulfur Dioxide: One study analyzed the effects of sea buckthorn seed oil on the protection against sulfur dioxide inhalation and found that buckthorn seed oil contributed antioxidant effects. Another study found a protective effect of salicylic acid and vitamin C.
4. Heavy Metals: Tulsi (holy basil) has also been shown to protect against the toxic effects of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, and the toxic effects of radiation. Vitamin C reduces blood lead levels, vitamin C, E and zinc reversed arsenic-induced lipid peroxidation and protected against mercury and cadmium in rats. Iron and copper have also been found to be high in air pollution.
5. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Vitamin C protects against polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons along with improving liver enzymes function like CYP1A2 and CYP1B1. These are outlined in detail in the Nutrition Genome Report if you have variants that increase your sensitivity to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Supplement Summary for Elevated Air Pollution Levels
If you are looking to improve your lungs for asthma and lung cancer, your mitochondria, and detoxification system for long-term health, I highly recommend testing your antioxidant genes through Nutrition Genome to figure out how to improve these genes and lower your risk factors.
Protects against nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, reduces blood lead levels, protected against mercury and cadmium in rats, protects against polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in pregnant women, vitamin C, E and zinc reversed arsenic-induced lipid peroxidation (zinc also blocks cadmium uptake), protected against mercury and cadmium in rats and increased glutathione.
This product contains dandelion, milk thistle, Oregon grape root, artichoke leaf, schisandra, and fennel.
Researchers have stated that “therapeutic strategies for liver protection against exposure to air pollutants should be considered if we are not able to reduce air pollution in our environment.” Next to the lungs, the liver is one of the most vulnerable organs to air pollution due to the translocation of toxins through the bloodstream. Toxins increase the risk of DNA strand breaks that cause cancer and acceleration of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Milk thistle acts as an antioxidant by reducing free radical production and lipid peroxidation, has antifibrotic activity (prevents thickening and scarring of tissue), protects the skin and may serve as a toxin blockade agent by inhibiting binding of toxins to the liver cell membrane receptors.
Shisandra increases liver cells’ glutathione and superoxide dismutase, significantly improved fatty liver disease, protects against heavy metal intoxication and improves mental health and physical work capacity due to being an adaptogen.
Dandelion has a long history as a liver cleansing herb with a high antioxidant profile. Dandelion root extract has also been found to induce apoptosis in human melanoma cancer cells that were chemo-resistant. Often thought of as a pesky, prolific weed, the earth may be signaling that we need it more than ever.
Beta glucans are found in medicinal mushrooms and have their role as a biologically active immunomodulator has been well documented for over 45 years. The research on medicinal mushrooms are astounding.
One study found with tests on mercury toxicity, beta-glucan significantly lowered the toxicity of not only thimerosal (found in vaccines), mercury acetate and perfluorinated hydrocarbons (bonus!). Researchers suggested that beta glucans can be successfully used as a natural remedy of low-level exposure to immunotoxins, and this ability was increased when combined with vitamin C and resveratrol.
Cordyceps and chaga are the medicinal mushrooms and adaptogens of choice for lung, liver and skin health. Cordyceps have traditionally been used to strengthen the kidneys and the lungs, help reduce inflammation in the airways, reduce phlegm, while also restoring lung and kidney function. Chaga has one of the highest antioxidant values (ORAC), a high dietary source of SOD, contains unique compounds like betulinic acid and melanin (protects against radiation) and is a potent cancer fighter.
A 2006 study looked at the effects of Cordyceps on the cellular immune functions of asthmatic children. In two groups of 40, both groups were given inhaled glucocorticoids, but the treatment group was also given Cordyceps. After 3 months, 75% of the treatment group had no symptoms, normal physical signs, and normal lung function. Cordyceps (and reishi) protect the mitochondria and has shown significant cytotoxic activity against melanoma, lung carcinoma, prostate, breast and colon cancer, and liver cancer.
Chaga mushroom – more known for its use in Siberia and countries outside the US for cancer – has anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective (liver) activity. In a mouse model of Lewis Lung carcinoma, chaga decreased tumors by 60% and research found strong anti-cancer activity against liver cancer cells.
Adaptogens increase the body’s resistance to physical (heat, cold and exertion), chemical (toxins and heavy metals) and biological (bacteria and viruses) stressors. Today were are overwhelmed with stressors in our lives. Between the high levels of psychological and physical stress combined with the chemical, bacterial and viral stressors, our bodies need more assistance.
Tulsi (holy basil) is an adaptogen that boosts glutathione, superoxide dismutase and catalase. It has also been shown to protect against the toxic effects of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, the toxic effects of radiation, and reduces DNA damage.
Tulsi not only protects against the damage caused by toxic compounds but also enables the body to more effectively transform and eliminate them. It does this by enhancing the activity of liver detoxification enzymes such as the cytochrome P450 enzymes, which deactivates toxic chemicals and enables them to be safely excreted.