7 Ways to Protect Your Lungs From Air Pollutants

7 Ways to Protect Your Lungs From Air Pollutants

Asia Muhammad, ND Asia Muhammad, ND
7 minute read

Pollution is everywhere, and we cannot entirely escape exposure; however, there are many ways we can mitigate exposure and reduce the effects of pollution on the body! Air pollutants are abundant both outside and inside of our homes. If you’ve been following our Environment and Lung Health series, you’re aware of the many different types of pollutants in the air ranging from automobile exhaust to toxins from mold called mycotoxins. Tiny and often invisible, these small particles can wreak havoc on our lungs and system overall.

Here are 7 simple ways you can mitigate exposure to environmental toxins as well as protect the lungs and body from their effects:

1. Curcumin

Curcumin is a yellow spice extracted from turmeric root plants. This radiant orange root has been extensively studied and well-documented for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Pollutants such as diesel exhaust particles have been found to cause lung inflammation and contribute to cardiovascular disease. In one study of rats exposed to diesel exhaust particles, researchers observed increases in immune cells such as neutrophils and macrophages. In this same study, inflammatory chemicals were also found in the lungs of the exposed mice, and cardiovascular disease markers such as blood pressure and CRP (C-reactive protein) were elevated. When researchers pre-treated these rats with curcumin one hour before exposing them to the pollutant, they found that curcumin behaved as an anti-inflammatory. This helped reduce the CRP level and prevented the increase in blood pressure. Other studies also demonstrate similar effects of curcumin as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent for pollution mitigation.

Curcumin can be consumed as a spice in cooking but be sure that if you're cooking with this yellow root, add black pepper! Black pepper increases our body's ability to absorb curcumin. Curcumin is typically consumed in savory dishes or used in smoothies.

2. Apples

Apples are rich in fiber and also a good source of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are plant compounds that exert a range of health benefits ranging from lung-protective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and beyond. Literature reveals that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with reduced cancer risk of the lungs. Other studies show that the whole apple, including the peel, is essential for obtaining all of apples' anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities. Researchers also found that apple intake was associated with reduced asthma symptoms. While this research is not specific to pollutants, we know that pollution is associated with lung cancer, asthma, and other lung diseases. Consumption of apples may offer a simple and cheap way to support our lungs in the midst of pollution in our air.

My favorite way to eat an apple is sliced with a bit of cinnamon and lemon juice. It's very refreshing and perfect for summertime!

3. Air Filtration Device

Many in-home air filtration devices can be a wonderful way to clean the air at home thoroughly and provide constant readings of our air quality. Most HVAC systems utilize filters that should be changed often to ensure quality air throughout the home. Beyond high-quality rated filters for our home systems, we can also consider adding a small home air filtration device that continually filters the air. There are many systems to consider, but I suggest researching and comparing brands before choosing. In my home, I utilize an air filtration device that will automatically kick on when it senses perfumes, sprays, or smoke from cooking in my home's air.

Consider checking between brands before purchasing. These devices can be expensive, but many companies run specials often and have great return policies. I would especially consider one if you live in an apartment complex or building unit whereby you have no control of HVAC filter changing. If you have access to your own HVAC system, such as in a house, consider using a HEPA air filter or a filter with a MERV rating of 7 or greater.

4. Quercetin

Quercetin is a superb plant antioxidant in many fruits and vegetables. Numerous studies sing the praises of quercetin in human health and disease. In the lungs, quercetin has been shown to protect against cigarette-induced lung damage. In an animal model of cigarette exposure, the rats pretreated with quercetin demonstrated reduced lung damage and less oxidative stress than those who didn’t receive quercetin.

A plant-rich diet is the simplest way to ensure quercetin intake. Adding quercetin-rich foods like grapes, onions, apples, citrus fruits, dill, fennel, and capers to your meals is a great option. Alternatively, you could also consider supplementation. Just be sure to check with your doctor before use to ensure it is safe.

5. Probiotics

Some scientists believe there are more bacteria in our bodies than human cells. Not only do the bacteria in your gut play a role in gut health, but it also exerts benefits to other organ systems, including the lungs! The gut-lung axis exists where byproducts in the gut can affect the lung and vice-versa. Researchers find that certain strains of probiotic bacteria are beneficial in lung diseases such as asthma and COPD, both of which have associations with pollutants. In one animal model of mice exposed to particulate matter, researchers found that the use of probiotics in combination with other nutrients demonstrated a lung-protective effect. In another study, researchers reveal the beneficial role of probiotics on the gut-lung axis, specifically their role in viral lung infections. Other ongoing studies are evaluating these effects in humans as well.

Probiotics are supplemental agents that have been shown to enhance different parameters of our health beyond the gut. If you would like to add a probiotic for your lung health, resB Lung Support is a great holistic option. You should also consider discussing with your doctor first as certain strains demonstrate benefit over others.

6. Plants

Some plants have the ability to improve our air quality by removing volatile organic compounds from the air. The literature appears to be split down the middle with regard to consensus. However, it seems that plants can transform volatile organic compounds in our air either by absorbing them or through a process called biotransformation. A high amount of plant species are required to filter our indoor air, and one potted plant will not suffice. It seems that 15-20 plants per smaller room yield some benefit for removing volatile organic compounds from the air.

Plants that have been studied for removing volatile organic compounds include:

  • Mother-In-Law’s tongue

  • Weeping fig

  • Chinese evergreen

  • Spider plant

  • Janet Craig plant

  • Gerbera daisy

7. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin found in fruits and vegetables. The benefits of vitamin C range from cellular protection and immune health to gut protection and lung support. An abundance of research demonstrates the beneficial role of vitamin C in human health and disease through food consumption and supplementation. A study evaluating antioxidant consumption and lung disease in children found that there is less lung irritation from inhaled allergens in children with high antioxidant activity. Another study found that vitamin C levels modified the effect of particulate matter pollutants on COPD and asthma exacerbation.

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables, with some being higher than others. Dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, peppers, and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and brussels sprouts boast some of the higher levels. Supplementing with vitamin C can create a gastrointestinal disturbance, so it is always wise to discuss supplementation with your doctor first.

About the Author

Asia Muhammad, ND, is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and an expert in functional medicine and personalized health. She specializes in gastroenterology, mind-body medicine, and stress management and has received additional training in mind-body therapies. Learn more at asiamuhammad.com or follow Dr. Asia on Instagram.

« Return to See All Posts