Last week, Thrive looked at how nutrition is key to building resilience against the factors driving depression, anxiety & suicide in teenagers.
This week, I’m going to tackle how to build resilience against pollution because let’s face it: things aren’t going to change any time soon in Hong Kong. And I don’t know about you but I want to love the life I live, not fear it or feel guilty every time my kids & I step outside.
Of course, we can invest in air purifiers. But what happens when we leave the house? What protects you & your family against the harmful effects of pollution as you stand on a busy street corner, waiting for the light to turn green whilst those huge buses exhale their hot fumes just inches away?
HIGH LEVELS OF PM2.5 POLLUTION DAMAGE THE BRAIN, LUNGS, HEART, BLOOD & TISSUES
The reason why Hong Kong pollution is so stressful is because of the high levels of PM2.5 particulates in the air.
The WHO puts safe levels of PM2.5 particulates at 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Today (Thursday, March 23, 2017), the city’s official PM2.5 reading stood at 80 mcm. Last week, levels hit 140+mcm. And that’s not unusual.
Every 10mcm increase in PM2.5 particulates causes health risks to increase exponentially – especially in the elderly and young children. And if you’ve got asthma, cardiovascular disease, skin inflammation, allergies, a propensity to respiratory infections or other kinds of chronic inflammation – that PM2.5 pollution is going to hit you hard.
Those sinister little particles have both short-term and long-term effects. They:
- Irritate & cause inflammation in the nose, throat, eyes or skin.
- Constrict blood flow to the brain putting you at risk for vertigo, dizziness, nausea, impaired vision & memory loss (among other things)
- Create an irregular heartbeat, whilst lowering blood flow to the heart via the coronary arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack
- Create inflammation and oxidative stress in the lungs, reduce lung function, aggravate asthma and increase respiratory symptoms like coughing
- Create tissue damage and infection throughout the body
- Harden the arteries and keep them from widening fully, thereby constricting blood flow and contributing to hypertension
And so the effects of air pollution are insidious and sometimes take a long time manifest themselves. But there is no question that air pollution is linked to heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. Air pollution can also cause long-term damage to people's nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs.
The problem is that we can’t lock ourselves in our home with air purifiers, never to be seen outdoors again.
WHAT YOU EAT CAN HELP PROTECT YOU FROM THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF PM2.5 POLLUTION
Think of it this way.
The food we eat can do one of two things. It can help us build an army of good soldiers that stamp out inflammation and boost our immunity. Or it can act as a welcoming committee for those evil little particulates entering our body and give them free reign to settle into our lungs, brain, blood, heart & other tissues.
THE GOOD SOLDIERS: RAINBOW FRUITS & VEGETABLES
What happens when you inhale polluted air, is that free radicals are created in the lungs. If your body is deficient in antioxidants like Vitamin C, the excess free radicals will overcome your body’s defence mechanisms. The result is oxidative stress, which causes oxidative damage, tissue damage and triggers inflammation.
So, why does it take us for ever to get rid of a cough in Hong Kong? Partly, because our body is being bombarded with an excessive number of free radicals from pollution and we don’t have the antioxidant reserves to fight them off.
Every meal of the day, including snack, should therefore contain rainbow coloured fruits & vegetables like kiwis, strawberries, papaya, blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, zucchini and cucumber. This bounty is rich in bioflavonoids and one of the most fabulous, pollution busting antioxidants ever: Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is helpful in preventing asthma attacks and acts together with Vitamin E as an antioxidant to fight off the free radicals created from pollution.
Moral of the story: Eat more carrots, peppers and blueberries and less rice crackers, biscuits and muesli bars.
THE PM2.5 WELCOMING COMMITTEE: SUGAR
In case you needed one more reason to trade up from sugar – let pollution be the reason to spark that change. I don’t want to be the militant nutritionist that says you can’t enjoy a special treat from time to time. But I would like to be the nutritionist that convinces you never to have cereal for breakfast again.
Here in Hong Kong – or London, Bangkok, Delhi, Mumbai, Jakarta, Manila, Beijing or any major city – we owe it to ourselves to do better than cereal. We need to arm ourselves with something way more nutrient rich like my Adrenal Friendly Breakfast or my Positive Life Force Smoothie.
The problem with sugar is that it uses the same transporter as Vitamin C to enter our cells. And that transporter is a bit naughty and prefers sugar to Vitamin C. So if you’ve got too much sugar in your blood, it is very likely that you are sabotaging your body’s ability to utilise Vitamin C to boost immunity and lower inflammation.
Plus, high levels of PM2.5 pollution are linked to certain types of cancer. A diet high in refined carbs and sugar hinders your body’s ability to destroy viruses, bacteria & cancer cells because sugar inhibits the production of new immune cells. Vitamin C on the other hand, activates our body’s production of these disease fighting immune cells.
NUTRITION IS A POWERFUL FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE AGAINST THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF POLLUTION.
Eating VitC-rich foods is only a small part of what we can do from a nutritional point of view to counter the negative effects of pollution on our health. Join me at Maggie & Rose on April 28th at 6.30pm for a talk on “COMBATTING POLLUTION: Boosting Immunity using Nutrition & Natural Remedies”. I’ll be discussing:
- The key nutrients and foods that neutralize the harmful effects of air pollution and boost immunity.
- Natural remedies for respiratory infections that could help keep antibiotics at bay.
- The low-down on supplementation – which ones are truly important and how to choose them.
We might not be able to do much about the quality of our air. But no one controls what we eat. That is totally up to us. We can use every meal as an opportunity to make us resilient or we can leave our health to chance.
Cristina Tahoces is a holistic nutritionist and owner of Thrive Nutrition Practice, which focuses on digestive healing, blood sugar regulation & post-natal recovery. Please join her Facebook Group"Thrive Nutrition Practice" for weekly articles, recipes & promotions.
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