As a sun lover and wanna-be avid gardener, I know first-hand the benefits of those warm rays of sunshine. And as a new mother, I try to spend as much time as I can in nature so I can introduce my young daughter to the sounds of birds, the smells of foliage, and the feeling of the natural ground beneath our feet. But I am also aware of the potentially harmful effects of the big outdoors!
You are likely familiar with the dangers of too much sun exposure—from wrinkles to oxidative stress and cancer—but you should also be aware of the risks from air pollution. In British Columbia, we are unfortunately exposed to wildfire smoke every summer, so even if you are lucky enough not to smell exhaust on your daily commute, you might not be totally protected from air pollution. For many years, correlations have been made between air pollution and illnesses such as cardiac arrhythmia, pulmonary disorders, cancers, Alzheimer’s-like brain declines, and many childhood conditions including ADHD, lower IQ, and even death in infants and children under the age of 5 years.
Several nutrients have been shown to provide health benefits and protective effects in people exposed to air pollution, including wildfire smoke, as well as UV radiation. Consider eating foods high in these nutrients or supplement if you need to.
Several B vitamins have been shown to provide health benefits and protective effects in people exposed to air pollution. Specifically, folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 have been shown to lessen the effects of fine particles on heart function and inflammation.
Vitamins C and E
These natural antioxidants promote healthy aging, protect cellular health, and promote cardiovascular health. Together they have been shown to normalize biomarkers associated with oxidative stress and provide protective effects in people exposed to airborne particulate matter from coal-powered power plants.
Astaxanthin is the perfect antioxidant for sunny weather. While it offers 6,000 times more antioxidant activity than vitamin C, it most famously has the ability to quench free radical damage from ultraviolet radiation. It is like a natural sunscreen that helps protect our skin from sun damage, but also supports cardiovascular and immune system health. In addition, it is very important in protecting our eyes.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s help in the maintenance of good health, specifically the cardiovascular system, which can be susceptible to air pollution. A recent study found that healthy middle-aged adults supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids did not have any acute cardiac or lipid changes after an exposure to concentrated particulate matter, compared to those taking olive oil.
Also known as NAC, it is a precursor to glutathione, our master antioxidant. NAC provides antioxidant activity and protects against free radical damage, which can be increased by air pollution.
Enjoying the outdoors and the wonders of nature should not be a dangerous activity. Be mindful of the hazards of UV radiation and air pollution, and the next time you go to the beach or decide to work in your garden, do your body a favour and protect it from the inside out!
Dr. Jennifer Brix, nd is a naturopathic doctor, health educator, and public speaker with a passion for empowering her patients to achieve optimal health. Dr. Jen has special expertise in treating digestive complaints, hormone imbalances, and brain-related health conditions and practices. She works at Brix Wellness in Kelowna, BC.