Protect Your Lungs During Wildfire Season

Protect Your Lungs During Wildfire Season

By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
Registered Nutritional Therapist

06 Jun 2023

Protect Your Lungs During Wildfire Season

Wildfires are a hot topic in Canada during the warmer months, with forest fires raging in several provinces—resulting in air quality warnings/advisories across the country.  Aside from causing widespread ecological damage over rural landscapes, should we be concerned about its effects on human health? What can you do to protect your lungs during wildfire season?

Wildfire smoke may be ‘natural’, but it’s still toxic to breathe.  It’s a mix of many different gases, water vapour and particles. The gases emitted by wood smoke include ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The particulate matter ranges from fine to coarse particle size, and consists of carbon-based microscopic solid particles and liquid droplets released by burning vegetation include organic chemicals, acids such as nitrates and sulfates, metals, soil, dust, pollen and mould spores. In fact the sometimes-odourless fine particles (i.e. those less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) are the most harmful because they can lodge deep within the lungs and get into the bloodstream.

How the Lungs Respond to Smoke

Within seconds after air is inhaled, the gases and particles within it can be found in our bloodstream.  The lungs are equipped with ‘sensors’ in the form of immune components that are there to protect us from damage by incoming microbes and pollutants.  Once activated these ‘sensor’ cells launch an inflammatory response that can trigger the symptoms of lung irritation. 

Once it penetrates the lungs, wildfire smoke has the capacity to generate more free radicals than everyday urban air pollution exposure can.  This free radical damage causes inflammation, and the tell-tale symptoms of smoke exposure when air quality is poor—even in healthy people. Mucous secretion is increased.  Coughing, wheezing, headaches, allergic-type irritation of the eyes, throat and sinuses are common complaints. If you’re someone with chronic lung disease, smoke exposure can trigger asthma, aggravate emphysema and chronic bronchitis (COPD), and worsen existing infections like pneumonia. 

Smoke inhalation can even increase risk of acute cardiopulmonary events like heart attack due to its tendency to reduce oxygen delivery to the heart muscle and cause lung embolism due to an increase in blood coagulation.  This risk is not limited to individuals with pre-existing heart and lung disease, either. There’s even research that’s shown that the stress caused to the lungs by smoke pollution weakens the immune system, making them more vulnerable to infection.

What You Can Do

Planning your outdoor activities according to the air quality index ratings provided by local health officials and using an air filter in your home can reduce the burden on your respiratory system.  Eating antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, keeping dietary sodium to a minimum and staying well-hydrated can support or enhance breathing.  So can certain natural health products, like NAC.

Protect Your Lungs with NAC and Selenomethionine

The antioxidant n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) protects us from damage caused by the excessive oxidative stress that results from inflammatory states, chronic disease, toxins and stress. What is NAC? It’s a sulfur-containing precursor of the amino acid L-cysteine and the antioxidant glutathione--the most important antioxidant made by the body.   NAC provides generalized immune protection by way of replenishing glutathione, via the glutathione redox system. 

NAC offers up additional respiratory benefits by reducing the viscosity of mucus and stimulating the clearing of mucus from the airways. This makes NAC a valuable component of any respiratory symptom-management program where irritation or congestion occurs. At the same time, NAC protects the lungs from the damaging effects of inhaled pollutants like smoke—regardless of the source.

Then there are the cardio-protective benefits. NAC has also been demonstrated to lower levels of c-reactive protein—a marker for inflammation. Overall, by acting as an antioxidant, NAC protects the blood vessels from the damaging effects of oxidized cholesterol, smoke, AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) from diabetes, and more.

Unfortunately, the human body isn’t able to create NAC, and food doesn’t contain it, either.

Unlike most glutathione-containing products--which are typically poorly absorbed---NAC supplements can provide a reliable source of cysteine to replenish intercellular glutathione to fight oxidative stress.  Pure Lab’s NAC provides 600 milligrams of n-acetyl-cysteine per capsule. We add no other medicinal ingredients, enabling you to achieve your desired dose in fewer capsules. You’ll know our product is fresh as soon as you open the bottle, as it will have a characteristic sulfurous odour—compliments of fully-intact cysteine.

Selenium is another glutathione-boosting, antioxidant nutrient. It’s involved in the production and recycling of glutathione.  Pure Lab’s Selenomethionine  is a selenium compound that provides 200 micrograms per capsule of a superior, more bioavailable form of selenium with an absorption rate of 90 percent (compared to 50% for sodium selenite). Rather than sourced from potentially allergenic food proteins like yeast, our selenium is obtained from mineral deposits and then chelated (attached) to a single amino acid. By chelating it to methionine, it becomes the body’s preferred, biologically active form of selenium that’s ready for immediate use by the body.

The added benefits? Methionine is an essential amino acid, a source of sulfur for our body and functions as an antioxidant itself. Plus, methionine also helps detoxify harmful substances in the body, such as heavy metals and may help prevent fat deposits in the liver. 

Supporting your lungs during periods of poor air quality exposure with NAC and selenomethionine may help you avoid some of the potential health complications of acute chronic smoke exposure.


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Lung Association of Canada. “Forest Fires and Lung Health”. Accessed online June 5, 2023. 

Migliaccio CT, et al. Adverse effects of wood smoke PM2.5 exposure on macrophage functions. Inhal. Toxicol. 2013;25:67–76. 

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