How to Stay Healthy in the Wake of Wildfires

How to Stay Healthy in the Wake of the Wildfires

My heart goes out to all those directly and indirectly affected by the fires throughout northern California this year, from my hometown of Oroville, to the most recent in Santa Rosa, Napa, and Sonoma County. I am encouraged that in the wake of these tragedies, communities have so strongly banded together in strength and support. The SFist published a long list of various places to donate, found here. Also, I have read that Andytown Coffee Roasters (located at 3016 Taraval) in the Sunset is collecting donations and driving them up to the Petaluma shelter on Thursday morning. If you’d like to donate, drop off by 5pm today (Wednesday) October 11th.

To support our community and ourselves during this time of extreme stress, it’s important that we take care of our bodies.  As our air quality becomes poor and reaches an “unhealthy” level, you may notice certain symptoms such as dry throat, fatigue, headache, red/watery/itchy eyes, shortness of breath, asthma, cough, sinus problems, etc. These symptoms are much more dangerous for children and elderly individuals, but also for those with chronic sinuses or underlying respiratory diseases. It’s important to pay attention to your bodies and notice if you are experiencing any of the above in order to take necessary precautions.

Why does smoke cause cellular damage?

Particulate matter (PM) are airborne particles containing toxic compounds. Particulate matter ranges in size and density. PM 10 (particles less than 10 micrometers) include inhalable course particles like that from roadways and construction sites. PM 2.5 include “fine” particles like that from vehicle exhaust, smoke, and haze (what we are currently experiencing in the wake of the fires). PM 1.0 are ultra-fine particles where most of the extreme toxic effects are found, the best examples of which are diesel exhaust. These particles enter deep into all tissues, and avoid normal clearance mechanisms by the body. When PM is inhaled, it moves throughout the body and can even reach the level of our mitochondria. These air pollutants affect mortality, cardiovascular & respiratory system, allergies, and immune & reproductive systems. Many studies have found evidence consistent with a causal relationship between PM 2.5 exposure and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. (1,2,3)

Six ways to stay healthy during times of poor air quality


The air inside our homes have all the same toxicants from the outside air, in addition to all of the toxins from home products like flame retardant furniture, dust and glue from carpets, cosmetics, and aerosols. Many of these materials in your home off-gas chemicals that are negatively affecting your health. Portable, high-quality air filters are easily ordered from Amazon. Choose one with both charcoal and HEPA filters. IQAir and Blueair come highly recommended, and I personally use the GermGuardian which runs around $100. 


Don’t depend on the dust masks found at Ace Hardware. This will give you a false sense of security. These masks are better than nothing, but their purpose is to trap large particles like sawdust. The toxins from smoke are a smaller form of particulate matter, and will travel through the commonly used construction mask. 


Take a daily supplement regiment of magnesium, selenium, B-complex, iron, and vitamin A.  These are the most important nutrients for biotransformation (i.e. getting the toxins to exit your body). Make sure you do not take these with your morning coffee, as coffee interferes with the bioavailability of nutrients. And as with most things in life, you get what you pay for, so don’t skimp on the cheaper versions of the vitamins. *Note: vitamins improve cellular function by compounding effect. That is, you will not see immediate changes and only repeated use will lead to lasting change.


Don’t light any candles. Unless you use beeswax or essential oil scented candles, they only do more to release toxins into the air. Save the vacuuming for another day. Vacuuming tends to unsettle dust, which can become airborne and add insult to injury to our already struggling respiratory system.


The catechins and polyphenols in green tea are like fairy angels to your mitochondria and cellular health. Their antimicrobial properties protect the microbiome, decrease intestinal inflammation, and enhance the function of glutathione, which acts to clear toxins from the blood stream and intestines.


Drinking enough water will support the function of your kidneys, which are working extra hard to clear your body of the inhaled particulate matter. When we don’t have enough water, our cells shrink, affecting all of our organs and the ability to function, react, and use energy properly. It will also disrupt mood and cognitive function (4). It’s important to stay sharp and aware during these times of stress and anxiety.

Wishing everyone health, safety, and comfort during this heavy time. 


1.     Feng, J., & Yang, W. (2012). Effects of particulate air pollution on cardiovascular health: a population health risk assessment. PloS one7(3), e33385.

2.     Pettit, A. P., Brooks, A., Laumbach, R., Fiedler, N., Wang, Q., et al. (2012). Alteration of peripheral blood monocyte gene expression in humans following diesel exhaust inhalation. Inhalation toxicology24(3), 172-181.

3.     Langrish, J. P., Li, X., Wang, S., Lee, M. M., Barnes, G. D., Miller, M. R. et al. (2012). Reducing personal exposure to particulate air pollution improves cardiovascular health in patients with coronary heart disease. Environmental health perspectives120(3), 367.

4.     Popkin, B. M., D'anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews68(8), 439-458.