Our mindset and dietary choices can either help us or harm us during
extreme environmental conditions like living under wildfire smoke.
It’s been 72 hours since the first sign of smoke rolled in over our home in Newberg, Oregon and commenced the current nightmare situation we and our fellow Oregonians are experiencing.
I am exhausted – not sleeping well, my endocrine system is all over the place, I’m in fight/flight mode, I have been exposed to smoke, and I am on an emotional roller coaster.
My husband and I had to evacuate our charming, historic farm house in the Chehalem Valley on Wednesday with our toddler and puppy in tow because of poor smoke ventilation. It was heartbreaking to have to pack and leave. But we are situated a couple miles downhill from the Chehalem Mountain/Bald Peak Fire and the airspace above our property was completely overtaken by dramatic rolling smoke clouds and eerie orange light – the sky was dark and ominous – from the surrounding wildfires. Yes, it’s been feeling like the apocalypse as our whole western side of our beautiful state is up in flames!
I have been addicted to my CALM app. I’m listening to a meditation on anxiety right now.
One of my greatest gifts is my ability to reframe. I am resilient. I can get anxious and fall to my knees in one moment, but, with a little time, reflection, hope and faith, I can recover and react in a more calm and mindful headspace.
I have an education in holistic nutrition – from a functional medicine perspective in traditional clinical nutrition, but also a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective. I know how to consider the whole being and how to take preventative care at all times and during all life phases or conditions.
So, after 72 hours of sinking inward, I have processed what I need to process about our current situation and now I am in holistic care mode.
There is so much that is out of my control right now. The only thing I can do is be proactive about the things I can control. Assessing what I know about fight/flight, stress/anxiety and a toxic environment (hazardous air pollution), I can make some powerful decisions to help keep me and my family as calm and safe as possible.
The Calm app is a great start. Worry and anxiety wreck havoc on the immune system. In fight/flight we know that we are not being chased by a tiger. But, when you are living in unpredictable conditions – like being surrounded by wildfires – well, you might as well be running from a hungry tiger. So, how can we ease the fears? Taking deep breaths (it’s hard when the air is heavy and toxic). But, create a clean space wherever you are – one room in a house, in your apartment, or in the evacuee’s case, in your hotel room. Set up a good, portable HEPA air purifier if you have one. Stay inside! Don’t burn candles or incense. Minimize your time outside. And do your best to meditate and stay calm. It is important for your heart health and general well being.
It’s not okay to exercise outside in this air pollution – so find other gentle ways to workout and move. Exercise helps in mindfulness, stress reduction and promoting a healthy heart and lungs. So maybe go gentle and do some stretching and light yoga at home. This all depends on your current health situation, assuming you do not have any chronic health problems. If you’re not sure what to do, ask your healthcare provider for advice on activity at this time.
One of the most powerful tools we have control over is what we eat (or what we don’t eat). Avoid sugar! It is super inflammatory. Choose healthy macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Now is not the time to start an elimination diet or to fast! Drink plenty of clean water.
Certain nutrients can help protect your body when you have some exposure. When you are living in the extreme conditions we are in, then some exposure is inevitable. Beyond limiting exposure, boost your health by adding these nutrients to your diet:
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is the ultimate anti-inflammatory agent! It’s an essential antioxidant. Smoke inhalation causes inflammation from oxidative damage to tissues. Antioxidants are nutrients that prevent damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are created as your body metabolizes food or when you have been exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation (or, in our case, wildfire smoke).
Vitamin C is the ultimate antioxidant. If you choose to supplement, know it is safe to increase your dose up to what’s referred to as “bowel tolerance” (you want to avoid too much or else you will have loose stools) – at 3000 to 6000mg/daily in divided doses. Please talk to your healthcare provider before prescribing supplements for yourself, especially if you have a medical condition or if you are taking any medications.
Foods rich in Vitamin C:
Fruits: citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit) – skip juice, too much sugar; kiwi; mango; papaya; pineapple; strawberries; raspberries; blueberries; cranberries; watermelon and cantaloupe.
Vegetables: broccoli; Brussels sprouts; cauliflower; green and red peppers; spinach; cabbage; turnip greens; and other leafy greens; sweet and white potatoes; tomatoes and tomato juice; winter squash.
Other excellent sources of antioxidants:
Allium sulphur compounds: leeks, onions and garlic
Anthocyanins: eggplant, grapes and berries
Beta-carotene: pumpkin, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach and parsley
Catechins: red wine* and tea – especially GREEN tea!
Copper: seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts
Cryptoxanthins: red capsicum, pumpkin and mangoes
Flavonoids: tea, green tea, citrus fruits, red wine, onion and apples
Indoles: cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower
Isoflavonoids: soybeans, tofu, lentils, peas and milk
Lignans: sesame seeds, bran, whole grains and vegetables
Lutein: green, leafy vegetables like spinach, and corn
Lycopene: tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon
Manganese: seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts
Polyphenols: thyme and oregano
Selenium: seafood, offal, lean meat and whole grains
Vitamin A: liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, and egg yolks
Vitamin C: see above
Vitamin E: vegetable oils (such as wheatgerm oil), avocados, nuts, seeds and whole grains
Zinc: seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts
Zoochemicals: red meat, offal and fish
* wine can seem like a great “stress reliever” but keep in mind wine is alcohol and alcohol is super inflammatory, so, when trying to boost your health when there’s dangerous air quality, select other high antioxidant options at this time. And I’m a winemaker – trust me.
Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 supports the immune system and is especially important when dealing with smoke inhalation, especially for those who have been diagnosed with a deficiency. If you live in the Pacific NW, chances are you’re deficient or should at least supplement, unless otherwise recommended by your healthcare provider. Recommended dosage – 5,000 to 10,000 iu/day with meals, unless otherwise instructed by your healthcare provider.
Glutathione. Liposomal glutathione detoxifies acetaldehyde and other smoke toxins and can prevent damage from inhalation. You should get this from your healthcare provider (most especially a naturopath or holistic practitioner).
Selenium. Selenium is another antioxidant that can help fight free radical damage and moderate cellular oxidative stress. Recommended dosage – 200mcg twice/day – unelss otherwise instructed by your healthcare provider.
Herbs. Green tea, ginger, and turmeric are highly effective in inhibiting the activation of carcinogens in environmental smoke.
The biggest take away here is choose foods rich in antioxidants, select supplements to support your diet – but remember that it is not necessarily safe to supplement without the guidance of a healthcare provider – this is because some underlying conditions could have dangerous contraindications with certain supplements.
As helpless as you might feel during such uncertain times, making healthy, clean choices for you and your family can really feel proactive. Always choose organic when you can – you do not need the additional toxins from pesticides. Take a deep breath. We’ll get through this!