We live in a polluted environment. Lebanon ranks as one of the most polluted areas in the Middle East, as shown by a recent study in 2019. Along with Iraq, Lebanon has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide. Moreover, the environment must have become more polluted especially after the massive fires that devoured the Lebanese mountain fires and the burning of tires by protestors since the beginning of the 17th of October revolution, which we are proud of. We contribute to this increase of environmental pollution through our activities that lead to harmful emissions, that not only harm the environment, but also the demonstrators and the revolution. The burning of tires leads to lots of chemicals and particulate matter that go into our air and subsequently to our waters and soils and eventually to our food.
All these pollutants have detrimental effects on our health leading to problems in the respiratory and circulatory systems, the heart and to many other chronic diseases including cancer. Cancer cases are increasing every day and we have the highest number of patients with cancer in Lebanon. We have to start cleaning and improving our environment, and there are lots of initiatives and organizations working on this, and we can help and support them each according to his capacity.
I will not be focusing on these initiatives today, because they are doing a great job, and their efforts will take some time to show results, especially in the absence of any governmental support. However, I will talk about the role of the diet in protecting us from the effects of this environmental degradation.
Our body has its own defense system
Fortunately, our bodies are equipped with detoxification system that can manage toxins and maintain health when exposed to harmful substances. This system converts toxins to nontoxic substances and excretes them primarily through the intestines, liver and kidneys. However, the body has a certain capacity to detoxify and this should not be surpassed. Minimizing exposure to toxicity is important, but so is the role the diet in combating toxicity.
Role of nutrients in protecting the body
More studies show the importance of certain nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and other essential micro-nutrients in reducing the risk of cardiovascular and chronic diseases, through anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory activities. Moreover, several studies in humans indicate that nutrients may attenuate the damage induced by air pollution.
Omega- 3 fatty acids are effective in improving the lipid profile, lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases, especially those induced by acute exposure to air particles and pollutants.
On the other hand, the B vitamins prevent the negative effects of pollutants on the heart, nervous system and the risk of cancer by preventing the perturbation in the biosynthesis of proteins, nucleotides and lipids.
Furthermore, vitamin E and vitamin C are the key antioxidants in humans. A supplementation with these vitamins was effective in decreasing the damage of air pollution exposure due to their antioxidant capacity and the activation of the oxidative stress defense system and the neutralization of the harmful effects of free radicals.
Moreover, air pollution may also have an indirect negative impact on vitamin D status. A major source of vitamin D is synthesized in the skin through the action of sunlight. This meets 80-90% of our needs since vitamin D is naturally found only in few foods. Air pollution reduces the amount of UVB radiation needed to convert vitamin D into its active form. Therefore, we need to increase our dietary intake of vitamin D (oily fish, dairy products, egg yolks, etc.) or take vitamin D supplements to prevent deficiency that can promote multiple diseases particularly osteoporosis, CVD, diabetes and cancer.
However, we should be careful about the adverse effects of a continuous and unsupervised administration of vitamin supplementation on health outcomes, so we should always consult a professional before taking any kind of supplements.
How can you detoxify your system?
A wise diet is a key determinant to health and could reduce the harmful impact of air pollution on health. This should include:
- Drinking 1.5-2 liters of water daily to help clean the body and keep the kidneys healthy
- Consuming a balanced diet with whole and real food and colorful fruits and vegetables. They are filled with phytonutrients that boost the detoxification.
- Include foods rich in antioxidants (Vitamins A, E and C, and Selenium). beets, broccoli, asparagus, kale, peaches, red peppers, papayas, parsley, carrots, apricots, avocados, cantaloupe, and green leafy vegetables. Antioxidants are necessary for neutralizing free radicals.
- Add whole grains like brown rice, oats and quinoa, and legumes like beans, chickpeas and lentils. They are rich in fiber and B vitamins and help in the elimination process, and B vitamins aid in the initiation of detoxification.
- Include foods rich in probiotics, like yogurt and fermented foods, to promote gut health.
Conclusion and recommendations
Finally, we are fortunate to have a Mediterranean diet in Lebanon, which is scientifically proven to be one of the healthiest diets in the world, due to its richness in olive oil, fish, fruits and vegetables. And in Lebanon, there are lots of products available all year round at affordable prices. We are also proud to have the tastiest and healthiest foods worldwide, like moujadara and bourghul and many rich salads like tabbouleh and fattoush. We must preserve our traditional foods and stay away from the imported fast foods, and this will help us protect ourselves from the harm around us.
Last but not least, I hope the protesters will follow up on the wonderful environmental activities they are carrying, from sorting the waste and recycling it, to cleaning the roads from the burning of fuels. I also wish that they stop burning tires that will not benefit the revolution by any means, and pray to God to protect Lebanon and the free Lebanese from all evil.