Attention all runners, cyclists, truck drivers, city dwellers, painters and smokers (and second-hand smokers); your lungs may not be happy with you.

As someone who jogs frequently in the city of Hamilton I’m aware of the dangers that both industrial and vehicle emissions have on my lungs. I don’t smoke, but I would be seriously concerned about the health of my lungs if it were not the case. First-hand and second-hand smoking are both the primary causes of lung cancer, with industrial and vehicular air pollution playing its part as well. Those who exercise outside are at a higher risk because of the forced air entry into the lungs combined with a faster rate of respiration. This ongoing state of oxidative stress on the lungs directly increases the risk of other diseases such as bronchitis, asthma, acute respiratory stress disorder, infection and sinusitis. In fact, oxidative stress has the potential to cause cellular damage to nearly any part of the body.

Armed with the knowledge and resources to minimize these issues, I took it upon myself to increase the levels of various nutrients during the summer months to specifically combat the oxidative stress associated with exposure to air pollution during my daily outdoor jogs, and it only seems to make sense that I share them with anyone who cares to read! (That’s you!)

First, a nutrient called NAC (N-Acetyl-cysteine) is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine and is a direct precursor to glutathione peroxidase. Glutathione peroxidase is one of the body’s primary anti-oxidants and is significantly involved in liver detoxification. NAC also increases glutathione peroxidase concentrations in the lungs and also thin excessive mucus secretions making it easier to breathe without all the wheezing which is especially helpful for those with asthma or other breathing difficulties. NAC is single-handedly my favourite lung protecting nutrient if I had to pick just one. As always, there are varying qualities of NAC products and strengths, so it pays to make an educated purchase – which does not necessarily mean purchase the most expensive one.

Vitamin C and Quercetin dihydrate have also been shown to reduce oxidative stress and to prevent the development of chronic respiratory symptoms. Quercetin has also been found to stabilize mast cells and basophils which reduce histamine production in the lungs in addition to other inflammatory compounds that restrict the bronchioles and make it difficult to breathe. Cigarette smoking in particular has a nasty habit of depleting vitamin C levels which puts you at further risk of lung damage.

Other accessory nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, B6 and B12 (in addition to other anti-oxidants) can also have protective effects on the lungs but in many cases a high-potency multi-vitamin may provide enough of each nutrient to illicit a therapeutic effect depending on the strength of the multivitamin. In other cases, a dedicated lung-support formula might be more optimal for those with increased risk of oxidative lung damage.

It goes without saying that you should quit smoking, and if air pollution is a constant threat in your daily life at the very least a high-potency anti-oxidant or multi-vitamin can significantly reduce your risk of lung disease, with more targeted options available. Since I’ve been taking my NAC everyday (in addition to my multivitamin), I can attest to easy breezy breathing – similar to how my lungs feel after a good cardio workout (minus the burning). Try it out, and if you’re looking for more information, we’re always here to help.