With awareness about healthy eating and living habits, people have become conscious about the food that they eat. However, it is not often that you stop and think about the quality of the air that you breathe. Just because the air you breathe does not carry an odor, it does not mean it’s safe for you.
Over 166 million people in the United States or 52 percent of all Americans are exposed to unhealthy levels of pollution, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects. While diseases like asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease can be directly linked to polluted air, little is known about the impact of dirty air has your brains.
The Effect Of Airborne Particles On Your Brain
The most dangerous airborne particles are those that measure 2.5 micrometers or smaller, also known as PM2.5. They are released by power plants, industrial processes, vehicle tailpipes, wood stoves, and wildfires. In a small trial, healthy people exposed to very high concentrations of PM2.5 had a steep decline in heart rate variability (an important measure of heart health) and an increase in heart rate.
The brain is protected by a barrier known as the blood-brain barrier which prevents harmful substances in your blood from coming in contact with your brain. Magnetite, a PN2.5 particle that is usually found in city air has been found to get through the blood-brain barrier by entering the body through breath. Once it enters your brain, it can affect multiple regions including the memory-processing hippocampus, which is among the first structures to be damaged in Alzheimer’s disease.
Once it enters your brain, it can affect multiple regions including the memory-processing hippocampus, which is among the first structures to be damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. Disruption or dysfunction of the barrier has also been linked to autism, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease. While the long-term effects are yet to be known, it is clear that airborne particles can surely inflict some level of damage.
How You Can Protect Yourself
1. Find Out More About Your Air
The first step to solving the problem is understanding it. It’s easy to find out the level of PM2.5 in your city. You can go online to search for your city’s air quality index (AQI). This will give you a fair idea if you live in a high-risk area or not. You might want to keep checking regularly since figures vary day-to-day and even minute-to-minute. Levels over 35 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air are considered high risk. On days when the Air Quality Index exceeds 100, it’s probably best to stay indoors as much as you can.
2. Eat Your B vitamins
In a small trial, healthy people who took a daily B complex containing 2.5 mg of folate, 50 mg of vitamin B6, and 1 mg of vitamin B12 seemed to be completely protected against pollution-induced vascular dysfunction and inflammation. Vitamin B helps in methylation, a primary method of removing toxins in the phase 2 liver detoxification process.
3. Have Omega-3-Rich Foods
Omega-3s are abundant in the fat of wild fish, pastured eggs, and grass-fed beef. In a small trial involving mice exposed to PM2.5, omega-3 fatty acids were found to both prevent and treat the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by air pollution, adding up to a 30 to 50 percent reduction in harm.
4. Include Cruciferous Vegetables
Raw cruciferous vegetables (like kale and broccoli) are rich in compounds called glucosinolates, which react with enzymes when they’re chewed to create a new compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a potent activator of phase 2 detoxification in the body and helps you to eliminate these particles from your body.
5. Consume Antioxidant-Rich Foods
In a study of people exposed to coal-burning emissions from an electric power plant, it was found that their levels of vitamins C and endogenous antioxidants were reduced. This suggested that exposure to pollution depletes our body’s limited antioxidant abilities. However, six months of supplementation with vitamin E and C (800 mg and 500 mg, respectively) was effective improving antioxidant defenses.