How to protect your body against the haze

PHOTO: How to protect your body against the haze

SINGAPORE - Even a little haze can harm the body over the long term.

A healthy immune system is probably the best antidote against haze-related health problems, according to naturopathic health principles.

Breathing problems stem from the minute particles of ash found in the haze here. Meteorologists call these particles PM10, although the PSI readings also take into account five other pollutants.

Breathing in too much PM10 increases the risk of heart attacks and heart failure, lung cancer and strokes. It can also make people more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.

Most healthy people may experience mild eye irritation, sore throat or cough from the pollutants.

While it can seem impossible to keep healthy when the air one breathes is itself hazardous, a few simple measures can help beef up the body's innate protective systems, said Dr Sharita Rowbottom, a United Kingdom-qualified naturopath . Her first suggestion is to drink a little more water than usual, to help the kidneys flush out the toxins absorbed through the skin and lungs.

She also advises cutting down on coffee and alcohol, which promote fluid loss and leach nutrients from the body.

The body makes excess mucus in reaction to infections such as coughs, colds and the flu. But excess mucus is produced also when an allergic reaction causes the lining of the airways to become inflamed.

So in such times, it might be useful to restrict foods that promote mucus production. Dr Rowbottom names dairy products as foods to avoid.

Drinking plenty of water will also help thin the mucus so that it moves more easily.

Other foods to cut back on include sugars, refined white flours, white pastas, peanuts and red meat.

Dr Rowbottom recommends increasing the intake of green, leafy vegetables and fresh fruit as they do not put too much pressure on the digestive system.

"If I had to recommend one supplement, I would advise taking a green food supplement such as chlorella, spirulina or blue-green algae," she said.

These superfoods work by boosting cellular activity to counter the harmful effects of toxins, she explained.

She also advises increasing one's intake of vitamin C, E and Omega-3 fatty acids - preferably from food rather than pills and capsules - because "it is a more balanced way of getting the right nutrients".

Fruits are rich sources of vitamin C while vitamin E can be found in avocado, apples, carrots, olive oil and nuts like walnuts and almonds. Oily fish, such as mackerel and sardines, is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

But those who suffer from heart or respiratory ailments should seek medical advice before they use natural products or supplements to avoid potential interaction with their medication, Dr Rowbottom said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on October 25, 2006.

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