Naturopathic Strategies to Stay Healthy During BC's Wildfires (Including 3 Acupressure Points for Lung Health)
It’s the end of a smoky summer in BC, and a post about how to use Naturopathic strategies to stay healthy is long overdue!
Healthlink BC has a comprehensive page with resources to help British Columbians and our guests deal with the health effects of poor air quality. It is definitely worth checking out.
However, there is more that you can do with Naturopathic Medicine for lung health!
Disclaimer: Please remember that this blog post is for informative purposes only and should not be taken as advice. Changes to health and lifestyle should always be overseen by a professional who understands you and your body. To find an ND near you, visit www.cand.ca. This post contains affiliate links meaning I receive a commission if you purchase from amazon.ca or well.ca after clicking one of the links.
ND Strategy 1: Keep the air you breathe as clean as possible.
The main message that we’ve heard is: stay inside and use your air conditioner and air purifiers if possible. That is a great first step! In addition, you can also improve indoor air quality by decreasing your indoor air pollution using the following resources:
- Check your home for unexpected sources of indoor air pollution and see their effects.
- Switch to natural cleaning products to decrease the irritation to your lungs.
- Add some air cleaning house plants to your home.
- HEPA air purifiers (which are recommended for forest fire smoke) are available on Amazon for under $150 and can get here tomorrow if you have Prime.
ND Strategy 2: Deal with the symptoms of smoke Exposure.
Naturopathic Doctors are all about treating the root cause of problems and letting the symptoms resolve on their own. However, we all recognize that sometimes you have to deal with what is coming up before you can heal what is going wrong underneath- especially if the trigger (eg. forest fire smoke) isn't going away anytime soon. The most bothersome symptoms of poor air quality that I've been seeing in the clinic are:
- Sore throat and coughing. I always reach for Nin Jiom for mild irritation of the lungs. This time tested formula contains lung fortifying herbs and honey. You can take it by the spoonful or mix it into hot water to make a soothing herbal infusion. I use homeopathic cough syrups for more bothersome coughs, and tinctures like Respirafect when I suspect infection is making things worse. (If you suspect lung infection, always see a doctor ASAP).
- Exacerbation of asthma and other lung conditions. Every person with lung disease should have an action plan. These action plans almost always include corticosteroid medications- some health-conscious people do not like the idea of taking corticosteroids because of the side effects. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I understand your hesitation. However, it’s important to remember that corticosteroids are life saving medications and are sometimes the very best choice. You can work with a Naturopathic Doctor to help to offset side effects and reduce the need for corticosteroids- but if the occasion arises when you’re having difficulty breathing- don’t hesitate to reach for your prescribed steroids at the appropriate point in your action plan. And if your symptoms get to the red zone- don’t hesitate to call 911 or go to the ER. Resources: COPD Action Plan. Asthma Action Plan.
- Dry and irritated eyes. There are an amazing number of eye drops available over the counter. We learned in ND school that the most effective ones are usually simple saline tears. When these don’t work, I like to find eye drops containing homeopathic euphrasia (otherwise known as “eye bright” for it’s eye health benefits). If you struggle with chronic dry eyes- oral omega 3 can help resolve that.
Strategy 3: Reduce the oxidative stress in your lungs.
One of the big problems with inhaling smoke is that it causes oxidative stress in your lungs. You might not get symptoms of oxidative stress per se, but it can predispose you to any number of conditions. When everything is working well in your body and you're getting a full complement of antioxidants through your diet, your body should take care of oxidative stress adequately. In times of extreme oxidative stress (eg. a summer of poor air quality), I personally prefer to boost up my antioxidant status with supplements as part of a preventative medicine protocol. It's not an evidence-based practice, but it makes good sense given what I know about how the body works.
“Oxidative stress” is a term that is thrown around a lot. Dr. Weil does a good job explaining it here. What you really need to know is that oxidative stress causes aging, dysfunction and disease and it can be combated with antioxidants.
Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants in your body and it is found in high amounts in your lungs. So, when you’re thinking about helping your lungs deal with added oxidative stress, it makes sense to target glutathione.
You have a couple of choices when it comes to increasing your glutathione levels:
- You can take glutathione directly in oral liposomal form. This isn’t my favorite strategy. It can be expensive and inefficient. Nebulized glutathione (offered by some NDs) could be a better option. Long term use can decrease zinc levels.
- You can increase glutathione indirectly by taking the precursor (N-acetyl cysteine aka NAC) and the cofactors required for it’s synthesis (Vitamins: C, E, B1, B2, B6, B12, B9; and the minerals: magnesium, zinc, and selenium). I prefer this method because it works quickly, and all the above vitamins and minerals have positive side effects throughout your body.
- You can boost glutathione indirectly by taking nutrients that increase it’s activity and synthesis. There’s evidence that resveratrol, astaxanthin, melatonin, and others can all increase glutathione levels.
When I’m creating a treatment plan for a patient, I’ll often combine strategies. For instance, using a multivitamin with emphasis on activated B vitamins along with NAC can potentially improve mood, hormonal metabolism, and immune function (in addition to improving glutathione levels). On top of that, you can add a targeted nutrient- for example astaxanthin for people with eye concerns or melatonin for people with circadian rhythm issues-that may boost glutathione further.
This is the beauty of natural medicine. When you’re giving nutrients that nourish the body and boost function- you usually get a cascade of positive side effects rather than negative.
Strategy 4: Acupuncture for Lung Qi.
If the chronic air pollution that we’ve experienced this summer has injured the vital energy of your lungs, you may be experiencing symptoms of Lung Qi Deficiency.
Symptoms of Lung Qi Deficiency include:
- Pale face
- Shortness of breath
- Spontaneous sweating
- Weak voice
- Slightly puffy tongue
- Frequent colds/flus
In my opinion, the best way to treat Lung Qi Deficiency is with acupuncture. In addition, if you’re concerned that you may have developed this pattern, you’ll want to be considering extra immune support as we head into cold and flu season.
If you'd like to experiment with some acupressure points on your own at home, here are my favorites for Lung Qi Deficiency and how to find them:
These are my best Naturopathic strategies to help you cope with poor air quality:
- Improve the air that you’re breathing by using HEPA air filters, switching to natural cleaning and air freshening products, and collecting some air-cleansing plants.
- Take advantage of natural remedies available to help with irritated throats, lungs, and eyes.
- If you have lung disease, make sure your action plan is up-to-date so you know what to do if your symptoms change.
- Use anti-oxidants to improve lung function and glutathione levels. Get advice from a Naturopathic Doctor to help you develop the best plan for you.
- Get evaluated for Lung Qi Deficiency if you’ve been feeling more weak and tired during smoky days. Consider trying acupressure to improve your lung health.
- Get ready for cold and flu season by boosting your immunity now, especially if your lungs don't feel as strong as usual.
I hope that these strategies help you get through the last of these smoky days as we head into Fall! Fingers crossed for rain incoming!
In good health,
PS. I'll be sharing my favorite immune boosting tips and products very soon. Sign up below if you'd like me to send you a heads up when it's published. (No spam- just blog posts!)
- http://ajplung.physiology.org/content/294/3/L478.short Resveratrol increases glutathione production in the lungs.
- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471489207000896 N-Acetylcysteine- a safe antidote for cysteine/glutathione deficiency
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24157545 Astaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids individually and in combination protect against oxidative stress via the Nrf2-ARE pathway.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20868358 The glutathione system and its regulation by neurohormone melatonin in the central nervous system.
- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0161642013003370 Short-term consumption of oral omega-3 and dry eye syndrome.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249747 The treatment of pulmonary diseases and respiratory-related conditions with inhaled (nebulized or aerosolized) glutathione.
NDs Helping NDs
Before I wrote this post, I reached out to my colleagues for ideas about how to help British Columbians deal with the effects of all this smoke and I'd like to say thank you to everyone who contributed!