Is There Anything We Can Do?

By Jamie Bussin, Dr. Jeffrey Brook PhD and Dr. Gordon Chang PhD

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed my seasonal allergies kicked in this spring much earlier than in years past. A stuffy nose and itchy watery eyes in April and early May? A longer allergy season? Really?

Dr. Jeffrey Brook, who I interviewed for a recent episode of the Talk Show/Podcast, is an Associate Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Engineering at the University of Toronto, with over 25 years as Research Scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada. He agrees that the allergy season started earlier this year. And the reason why is climate change.

According to Dr. Brook, there’s a correlation between climate change and what’s causing the allergic reactions, aero allergens, in a number of different ways. Typical aero allergens come from vegetation which are experiencing changes in their conditions. Things are getting warmer – earlier springs and later falls. This changes the timing of when pollen is released. There’s also climate change impacting fungal spores. Fungal spores are a whole other type of allergen that are critical to people’s allergic symptoms. Climate change can bring damper conditions in areas where we might see more flooding, and flooding can lead to more indoor dampness and then  much more mould and fungal spores indoors. But perhaps the air quality that most Canadians are concerned about are wildfires, which are spurred by drier seasons in our heavily wooded areas. The bottom line? Climate change is going to change the amount of aero allergens out there. 

Climate scientists and environmental policy makers are trying to establish policies that will turn us towards reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. To date we’ve had limited success. There’s been lots of talk, but the emissions have continued to go up. One strategy that has been taken more recently has been to try to elevate the awareness of the health implications of climate change, and one of the areas where health implications are really critical is air pollution. According to Dr. Brook, climate change will be the number one public health issue for the planet in the future. The pervasive increase in exposure to allergens  has enormous effects economically and in terms of people’s quality of life.

The bad news is that the Canadian government is not currently able to track allergens or pollen and mould spores on a regular basis. It’s a very time-consuming and expensive endeavour to do the necessary measurements. In Canada, allergen monitoring is limited to 30 sites and is done by a private company. 

The good news is, though, that newly emerging technologies are allowing instruments to be able to see the allergens and the spores through various techniques instantaneously and use artificial intelligence methods to identify them and count them. We’re entering a new era, but allergy monitoring networks, which could really improve what apps can do and how you could protect yourself, have not been established in Canada to date. For now, awareness of the factors that are increasing allergens into the air and reducing the air quality are what we can rely on.

In another recent interview on the Talk Show/Podcast I discussed wildfires, our air quality and how our lungs might be impacted, with nutraceutical formulator Dr. Gordon Chang. As wildfires burn across Canada, chemicals are released into the air. Without precautions, we breathe those chemicals in and that may cause inflammation in our lungs. 

According to Dr. Chang, the problem with inflammation is when it becomes too much. It can lead to scarring in the lung tissue which later on can lead to loss of suppleness in the lungs, which makes it a lot more difficult to breathe. Scarring of the lungs also reduces the functional surface area of our lungs which allows air exchange to occur. In turn that reduces the amount of oxygen that gets absorbed by the bloodstream. So it’s worth our while to actually look into trying to help inhibit some of that inflammation.  

The scarring of lungs doesn’t happen overnight. However, over time, exposure to factors that increase inflammation might result in a chronic condition. When we’re young our bodies are better able to cope with inflammation. However as we age, our body’s capacity to do so diminishes. 

The first line of defence is to exercise your common sense. If there are smoke or air quality warnings, it’s best to stay indoors as much as possible. Air filters, in particular hepa filters, can screen out allergens and some of the chemicals in the air.

Gordon also recommends a lung cleanse. By this he means using the body’s own cleansing mechanism and enhancing it so that it gets rid of a lot of the toxins such as chemicals and particulates. Our lungs can process smaller quantities of chemicals and particulates without much problem – for example breathing the air from a campfire. The lungs wall off the inflamed tissue. But over time, or if there is significant exposure to toxins, inflammation becomes more pronounced.  There are natural products that can reduce inflammation and enhance our lungs’ ability to process those airborne toxins. 

Here are the specific herbs, according to Dr. Chang, that have been shown to be very effective in helping enhance the mechanisms of detoxification

  • Chinese skullcap root
  • Monk fruit
  • Chrysanthemum flowers 
  • Mulberry leaves
  • Rosemary
  • Honeysuckle 
  • Peppermint  

Gordon’s advice: “All these things help, and usually it’s a good idea to take a number of these things together, in combination. A lot of these herbs work by different biochemical pathways, and the reason you want to do a combination or a formula is that you tap on many of the different biochemical mechanisms with the different herbs that you use, and because you tap on many different biochemical pathways or mechanisms, you get a much more effective product or a much more effective way of cleaning out the lungs biochemically..”