In Fine Fettle: Smoke — it’s not just ruining the view

By Ammi Midstokke
Reader Health Columnist

SMOKE. You can’t avoid it right now. It’s in your neighborhood, your car, your office, your eyes, lungs, everywhere. Even your clothes smell like stale campfire. By now, you probably are feeling some of the obvious impacts. There are some other unseen, potentially unrecognized impacts that are unavoidable on these days resulting from the exposure.

A smoky view from Sandpoint City Beach. Normally, the Green Monarch Mountains are easily visible across the lake. Kootenai Point is barely visible in the middle. Photo by Ben Olson.

The air around us is currently chock full of something called Particulate Matter. If you’re reading air quality reports, they say PM 10 or PM 2.5 – a reference to the size of the particles and thus their ability to affect or infiltrate different tissues. Both are associated with many symptoms of unhealth, but the PM 2.5 has a longer rap sheet.

Breathing in these toxins throughout the day, as we all are this fire season, dramatically increases the workload to several of our systems. PM is directly associated with some surprising biological changes including:



•insulin resistance

•raised systemic inflammation markers 

•raised cortisol levels

•epigenetic changes to DNA (such as cancer mutations)

•All the stuff you feel right now: sore lungs, throat, itchy eyes, fatigue, general malaise, headaches

Exposure like we are currently getting is significant enough to cause any and all of this (though cancers are associated with prolonged exposure, it seems this pattern of smoky summers might be here to stay). So what does this mean for us if we can’t take a two month vacation in the arctic?

Heed the warnings. Limit your exposure as much as possible. Keep children, animals, grandparents inside. Enjoy a break from your workout regimen (opening your bronchial with intense breathing is the last thing you need). Support your body’s efforts in managing this huge stress load by:

•Sleeping as much as you need right now (you need more)

Ammi Midstokke.

•Drink more water to help your body continually flush the rubbish

•Eat as clean as possible – you don’t need more toxins from your food

•Accept that if you are feeling rather crummy right now, it is normal

•Know that after the smoke clears, you’ll have lingering effects so be gentle with re-introducing your work load, training load, etc.

Most of all, take care of yourself. Eat your vegetables (the toxins need fibers to attach to for safe excretion). Up your fish intake to help your natural barrier systems with essential fatty acids. Take a bunch of turmeric or other antioxidants to help your body with the stress load. And if your yard isn’t currently on fire or under water, take a moment to be grateful.

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