The Pacific Northwest is on fire and our air quality is suffering in Portland. The skies are grey and our cars are covered in soot. I personally experienced an audible wheeze commuting by bike for only a day. In fact, the air is deemed particularly dangerous for susceptible individuals like those with asthma and COPD.
The same soot that’s landing on our cars is landing deep in our lungs, making it harder to breathe and causing cough (1). Physiologically, smoke inhalation can damage the tissue lining of the lungs, cause fibrosis, and lead to inflammation (2). Oregon.gov has great recommendations made for limiting your exposure to smoke:
- Pay attention to local air quality reports (internet search ‘[your city] air quality index’)
- Stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible
- Don’t add to indoor pollution
While taking into consideration the recommendations for limiting your lungs from exposure to smoke, there are ways to also keep your lungs healthy. Here are my top five favorite ways to support lung health:
#1: N-ACETYL CYSTEINE (NAC)
NAC helps lung function because it breaks up mucus, is an antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory (3). Some, but not all studies, report that NAC improves lung function when given for a longer period of time (600 mg/day for at least four weeks). NAC can also prevent acute exacerbations of lung issues in those susceptible. In mice injected with the flu, those that were also given NAC had a more positive immune response and less inflammation in the lung tissue as compared to mice without NAC (4).
Oral probiotic treatment can control immune responses in the lung. By treating the gut mucosa, we address microbial imbalances in distal mucosa like the lungs (5). Most studies use lactic acid-producing bacteria like lactobacillus, streptococcus, Bifidobacterium, and enterococcus. I recommend eating a variety of fermented foods daily to support your lung health. These foods include: kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, other fermented veggies, natto, yogurt, etc.
#3: Vaporize Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Breathing in eucalyptus oil can protect you from pathogens and is anti-inflammatory to lung tissue (6). Wildfires leave the air full of small particles that when breathed in cause inflammation in the lung. There are a couple ways to inhale eucalyptus essential oil. Consider an essential oil diffuser, add five drops to shower floor prior to shower, or make a steam inhalation at home over the stove by adding three drops of oil to a pot of simmering water and breathe in with a towel over your head.
Fennel can reduce lung damage, reduce inflammation and protect the tissue from damage (7). Fennel and beets both increase nitric oxide production which leads to dilation and blood flow, both of which benefit lung function. Here is a fennel salad recipe from New Seasons Market.
Mullein soothes the mucous membranes of the lungs and can assist in the expectoration mucus. A tea of mullein is made by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves or flowers and steeping for 10-15 minutes. You can drink the tea 3-4 times per day. You can also take 1/4-3/4 teaspoons of mullein tincture 3-4 times per day (8).