Air pollution: sometimes pictures speak louder than words, and this is one of those times…This was and is the main reason I moved to the Austrian alps:




Air pollution in Europe

I grew up covered under one of those red zones you see in the picture – the Netherlands. A great country. It´s just a shame the air is so polluted…. Air pollution is now the 3rd biggest cause of death in the Netherlands. The country covers over a million people suffering from a lung disease, like asthma or COPD.

Let me share a few things about the relationship between lung disease and air pollution before getting into the things you can do do yourself to offset the negative effects of air pollution. Because there are things you can do!

Air pollution & lung disease

So it’s been proven scientifically that exposure to air pollution causes asthma and COPD.  And even mild exposure to air pollution has its influence on people who suffer from a chronic lung disease. (read more about that here)

Air pollution is estimated to be responsible for about 15% of asthma attacks. A key goal of treatment is to prevent these attacks, because asthma attacks pose the greatest risk to patients, cause most anxiety to patients and their families, cause the greatest stress to health care providers and also generate the greatest cost to the health care system.

Inhaled glucocorticoids are most commonly used to maintain asthma control and reduce the risk of asthma attacks. But what if you want to reduce your dependency on medication?

Of course you can move to the mountains to escape air pollution (like I did) and improve your lung health, but I know that´s not an option for everyone.

So what else can you do yourself to offset the negative effects of air pollution?

⦁ If you like to exercise outdoors; do it in the morning outside of busy travel times. Ozone levels are lower in the morning and sunlight can make ozone pollution levels worse throughout the day.

⦁ Less vigorous outdoor activities like for example walking instead of running. But please do exersize. A Danish study showed that despite the adverse effects of air pollution on health, air pollution should not be perceived as a barrier to exercise in urban areas.

⦁ Increase the intake of nutrients with antioxidant and/or anti-inflammatory properties.

Let me elaborate a bit on the latter…

Air pollution leads to both oxidative stress and inflammation, which are pathologies underlying asthma and asthma attacks.

Increased intake of antioxidants, as well as other anti-inflammatory nutrients, may weaken air-pollution induced oxidative stress and inflammation in asthma and other chronic inflammatory diseases. Several studies showed that some nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D and omega-3 PUFA have protective effects against the damage induced by fine particulate matter.

More research is necessary, but the research so far suggests that whole-food interventions are most effective (as opposed to taking consuming antioxidants by means of supplements).

A bit of science…

To give you a bit of an idea: this study took 137 asthmatic adults and randomly assigned them to either a high-antioxidant diet (5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit daily) or a low-antioxidant diet (≤2 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fruit daily). At the same time they started with a controlled supplementation trial: a random group of people received the high-antioxidant diet + a placebo and a group of people consumed the low-antioxidant diet with either a placebo or tomato extract (a dietary supplement containing lycopene, an antioxidant that suppresses the production of inflammatory cytokines).

The results, in short: after 14 weeks it became clear that the patients on the low-antioxidant diet were (among other things) more likely to get an asthma attack than the asthma patients who were on the high-antioxidant diet. But improvements were evident only after increased fruit and vegetable intake. Of the patients in the low-antioxidant diet group, no difference in airway or systemic inflammation or clinical outcomes was observed between the groups that consumed the tomato extract and those who consumed a placebo. This suggests that whole-food interventions are most effective.

Another reason for me to stick to the whole-food plant-based diet that I´m on :-).

And there is more…

This was of course a small study, but quite a few studies have already been performed on the relationship between air pollution and nutrition. If you want to read more about this, I´d suggest you start with this article, because it reviews the existing literature related to the potential for nutrition to modify the health impacts of air pollution.

I mentioned before that another great way to deal with the effects of air pollution is by escaping it all-together and moving to the mountains or the sea. In my next blog I’ll dedicate a few words to this and I´ll recommend some places to flee to if you want to escape air pollution (long or short term :-).