How to manage bushfire smoke health risks

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The current catastrophic weather conditions and subsequent bushfires in Australia, have contributed to poor air quality. Many people are questioning the impact of this smoke hazard on our health and also who is most at risk. Naturopath Linda Demy-Gero explains.

It is well documented in the scientific literature that air pollution can have a negative effect on your heart and lung health. Dr Dennekamp, an Epidemiologist at Monash University in Melbourne explained that recent research has found a link between out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in Melbourne and bushfire smoke.

Bushfire smoke is made up of water vapour, small particles and gases which could include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The smaller and finer the particles, the more damaging their effect on your lungs. The most studied fine particles are those less than 2.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5) which can reach the lung alveoli impacting cardiovascular and respiratory function.

Who is high risk?
•    People with a pre-existing heart or lung conditions – such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
•    Pregnant women
•    The elderly
•    Young children

How does the smoke effect you?
Environmental Health Expert Fay Johnson from the University of Tasmania said if you can see or smell smoke then you should try to minimise your exposure particularly if you are in the high-risk group. According to a published paper, people on “less nutritious diets” are at higher risk of developing chronic diseases. Healthy people tend to tolerate this type of pollution better but common effects are:
•    Itchy or burning eyes
•    Throat irritation
•    Runny nose
•    Coughing
Exposure to air pollution may further promote the risk and severity of diseases by impacting our inflammatory and oxidative stress pathways.

What can you do?
Experts suggest you stay indoors, use an air conditioner or portable air filter, avoid outside physical activity, wear a mask (P1 or P2 – available at hardware stores) or leave the area.
Eat a nutritious diet high in fruits, vegetables, fibre and fish. Restrict your intake of salt, saturated fats and added sugars.

Studies have found benefits in Omega-3 fatty acids (up to 2-3 grams/day) a natural anti-inflammatory, and micronutrients can reduce the risk of heart and chronic diseases. These nutrients include B group vitamins, particularly B2 and B12, folate (500mcg/day), vitamin D, and antioxidants such as vitamin E (400iu/day) and C (500mg/day).

This season of polluted air is very new to all of us but some understanding of its effects and ways to manage it, will help us in the future.

It is also recommended to check the weather app – THE WEATHER CHANNEL: FORECAST – which gives you a reading of air pollution including Micro Dust levels with particulate matter less than 2.5microns (PM2.5).




About Linda Demy-Gero
Linda Demy-Gero is a naturopath and owner of Go Vita Stanthorpe and Warwick in Queensland.
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