Tips for Living with Poor Air Quality
It may seem a little whiny to complain about volcanic smog (referred to as “vog” here in Hawaii) while my friends and family on the mainland are dealing with freakish winter weather. It’s a beautiful and poetic thing to be near an active volcano where you can be a witness to the continual formation and transformation of our beloved earth. However, a recent and especially wicked two day migraine has led me to prioritize the whine-ability of vog. I never had allergies when I lived in Iowa or near DC, but living near a volcano has taken things to a whole new level. When the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is more active and the wind directions are right, it leads to more sulfur dioxide particles in the air over Oahu (the island I live on), which leads to sinus pain, headaches, and irritable children (in that order). I know that vog is something unique to those living near active volcanoes, but hopefully the tips below will be helpful for anyone living in an area with poor air quality either due to smog or pollen (or both – celebrity allergen name “smollen”!) because it all leads back to the same root cause – irritation to the respiratory system. This irritation causes the body to release histamine, which is a chemical produced by specific immune cells that burst when triggered. The histamine provides a signal that says “something’s wrong, send help”, so these immune cells tend to congregate in areas that are prone to “invasion” such as the nose, eyes, and skin. Histamine has other important roles in the body and is actually also a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical that has an effect on the brain. This is why taking anti-histamines can make a person feel groggy or tired – histamine helps the brain to be alert, especially in times of danger. Some people are prone to excess production of histamine. It’s a simple genetic trait, probably kept around and passed on because people with more histamine tend to be more alert and aggressive – qualities that will get you a higher ranking on dating websites, I guess :). Dietary factors are also involved, and eating allergy-prone foods such as excessive amounts of gluten and ultra-pasteurized dairy can increase histamine levels.
With that said, here are a few tips to lower your histamine response during times of acutely poor air quality. (All dosages for supplements are only suggestions based on personal experience – please check with your healthcare practitioner before taking anything, especially if you are taking medication):
- Keep track of your local air quality. Here are the websites for Hawaii and California, which also include practical tips to follow during times of increased exposure vog or pollution (i.e. try to stay indoors, use air conditioning, avoid physical exertion).
- Make your neti pot a close, personal friend. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in warm water in your neti pot and use it to flush out your sinuses as often as needed (obvious statement- use clean water! If your tap water is prone to parasites or contaminants please use a sterile source of water to clean out your nasal passages). I find this to be more effective than almost any other method for sinus pain.
- Drink plenty of water! If you are hydrated, your respiratory system will be better able to deflect irritants. A pinch of Celtic salt and a squeeze of lemon will help to make your water more absorbable.
- Run a humidifier with a little bit of peppermint essential oil in the water (if your humidifier allows for that) or boil a pot of water with peppermint oil on the stove to get the same effect. This moisturizes the nasal passages and the peppermint acts as a natural anesthetic for sinus pain.
- 1,000 mg of Quercetin3 times per day for up to two weeks. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that stops the release of histamine without the side effects of pharmaceutical anti-histamines. It can be purchased at most health food stores.
- 500 mg of Bromelain 2 times per day for up to two weeks. Bromelain is an enzyme from pineapple (you can also try eating fresh pineapple daily and skip this one) that works synergistically with Quercetin to balance histamine levels.
- 2,000 mg of Magnesium Ascorbatedaily for up to two weeks, which can be taken in divided doses if taking it all at once causes diarrhea. This is a specific form of vitamin C that is attached to magnesium. The reason I like this form for allergies is that vitamin C itself increases the body’s rate of detoxification of histamine (one study found that just taking 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily for 1 week decreased histamine levels by 38% in participants) but when you attach it to magnesium you get the added benefit of magnesium blocking the calcium channels that trigger histamine release. To put it very simply, calcium is the “go, faster, increase” mineral and magnesium is the “stop, slower, relax” mineral. So in this case, taking Magnesium Ascorbate kills two birds with one stone.
NOTE: This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or prevent any disease. Supplement dosages above are given for information only based on personal experience and do not replace the advice of a qualified health care practitioner. Please consult with your practitioner before making changes to your diet or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment for a specific condition or are on medication.