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In the thick of it – how recent poor air quality may be affecting your health and what you can do about it

In the thick of it – how recent poor air quality may be affecting your health and what you can do about it
Date: 2020-01-07
Author: Sophia Power BHSc(NutMed), BA(Media)
Access: Public

With the ongoing bushfires badly affecting vast areas around Australia, the air quality has been deemed ‘hazardous’ in many places. While the national standard for air quality is less than eight micrograms/m3 of ultrafine particles, areas within a 25km radius of fires have reached air quality of up to 50 micrograms/m3. The World Health Organisation has listed air pollution as the number one environmental health risk factor.1

Some of the common symptoms that can be seen in those affected by poor air quality include:
• Headaches
• Difficulty breathing, triggering of pre-existing respiratory conditions
• Irritation of the airways – including nose and throat
• Red, watery or sore eyes
• Fatigue2

The good news is there are measures that can be taken to ensure the health effects for you and your family are minimised:

Consider investing in an air filter – if the pollution is likely to be prolonged or a member of your household has pre-existing allergies, heart or respiratory issues, this can be a worthwhile investment.3

Love exercising outdoors? Timing is key! Check your local air quality reports for the day and minimise outdoor activities on days of high pollution. When you partake in aerobic activity, you require deeper breaths, leaving you more susceptible to the damaging effects of pollutants.4 As air pollution levels are generally highest in the middle of the day, consider an early morning or late afternoon sweat session or hit the gym or yoga studio (extra points if they have indoor plants!)

Speaking of indoor plants, they bring life to a space in more ways than one! Some plants do more than their fair share of the cleaning when it comes to dust and air pollution in your home, so much so that NASA investigated this and came up with their very own list of the top air filtering pot plants. Among them are the snake plant, devil’s ivy, peace lily and bamboo palm.5

Recent research into the role diet and antioxidants play in reducing the health impacts of pollution, including through supplementation where needed, found evidence that a number of key nutrients can support the body and protect tissues from damage. Consider including the following:

Glutathione – as an antioxidant, this nutrient prevents oxidative damage in the body, which can have detrimental effects to health over time. Glutathione also supports the immune system and liver function – including the elimination of metabolic by-products (things you really don’t want circulating in the body for too long!)

Vitamins C and E – both act as antioxidants in the body, working to protect the tissues from free radical damage, including from pollution.

Curcumin – the health benefits of curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) are many, but its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities are standouts for preventing damage to the body from free radicals and reducing existing inflammation.

Vitamin D – adequate vitamin D status is crucial to a healthy immune and cardiovascular system, both of which need extra help when air pollution increases.1

A Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of good fats – the diet that has far-reaching health benefits is also useful in combatting inflammation, particularly of the airways, as this can trigger breathing difficulties in vulnerable people. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables; fats from fish, avocado, nuts, olive and coconut oils; and choline from meat and poultry, eggs, and cauliflower all have been shown in studies to reduce systemic and airway inflammation.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of poor air quality or would like more guidance on how to minimise the effects, speak to your qualified health professional.

To find a practitioner in your area, go to our Find a practitioner page!




1. Whyand T, Hurst JR, Beckles M, et al. Pollution and respiratory disease: can diet or supplements help? A review. Respir Res, 2018;19:79.

2. Davey M. ‘Hazardous’ air quality from bushfire smoke triggers psike in hospital admissions. Guardian. Viewed 9th Dec 2019 at

3. AirNow. How smoke from fires can affect your health. Viewed 9th Dec 2019 at

4. Laskowski ER. Does air pollution make outdoor exercise risky? What if you have asthma or another health problem? Mayo Clinic. Viewed 9th Dec 2019 at

5. Pinola M. This graphic shows the best air-cleaning plants, according to NASA. Lifehacker. Viewed 9th Dec 2019 at

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