Waking up to smoggy mornings, residents of North India are left choking where the government has announced schools to remain shut and minimise outdoor activities by people of all age groups. Being named a ‘gas chamber’, the Capital has hit the headlines yet again for its hazardous air pollution that had left people coughing and breathless the previous year as well. Air pollution in North India has become a serious issue due to many reasons and it witnesses a month of extreme pollution due to the large scale crop burning practice in states like Punjab and Haryana. Other than this, the migration of approximately 5 lakh people each year for education, settlement or jobs in Delhi NCR has also led to a drastic increase on the same, resulting to almost 30,000 deaths each year, according to AIIMS Delhi.
After several attempts to reduce the rising air pollution by the government in the previous year, Delhi NCR has once again fallen into the hands of thick blanket of smog and IMA (Indian Medical Association) has declared it a 'public health emergency'. The event has also forced the government to introduce the Odd-Even rule once again, increase parking fees in an attempt to persuade people to use the metro as a means of travel instead of cars and allow free travel in all DTC and Cluster buses to give a lending hand to decrease the increasing pollution.
Understanding AQI (Air Quality Index)
Launched under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan by the Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change on 17 September 2014, the National Air Quality Index (AQI) effectively disseminates the quality of air.
PM10 and PM2.5 : Particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter and 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter respectively, the latter is usually described as fine particles that make a large proportion of dust. The particles are drawn into the lungs and get trapped in the throat, mouth and nose. This in Delhi is currently rising above 800 and 600 respectively resulting people to suffer from major health lung and heart issues.
Gases: NO2 (Nitrogen Oxide), O3 (Bad Ozone), SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide), CO (Carbon Monoxide) and NH3 (Ammonia) are gases produced during fuel combustion at high temperatures such as car engines. Cities bustling with cars such as New Delhi are highly prone to the gases leading to air pollution and are highly harmful and poisonous for living beings, especially children, the elderly and those with asthma.
Heavy Metal: Lead and mercury are common examples of heavy metals that contributes towards the making of bad quality of air. Once they enter, they get distributed throughout the body and get accumulated in the bones. If the level of exposure is high, an individual can also suffer from weak nervous, immunity, reproductive, cardiovascular, developmental and kidney systems. Children are highly sensitive to lower levels of lead resulting them to behavioural issues, learning deficits, lowered IQ and more.
Nutrients to Safeguard Against Smog:
Along with the schemes mentioned above, there also are other measures that an individual must consider to take up on his own. The use of masks is, of course, a significant consideration and along with it is keeping a careful watch on what to eat and from where to eat. Here are a few foods that you can include in your diet to curb the rising pollution and build a stronger immunity:
1. Vitamin C: It is one of the main antioxidants important for the body to fight infections, avoid allergic reactions and build immunity. Vitamin C is easily soluble in water and because the body cannot store it, it is necessary to consume the right about of the vitamin on a daily basis. You can include citrus fruits such as oranges, lemon, lime and Indian gooseberries (amla) along with guava, pineapple, kiwi, peppers, papaya and berries of your choice.
2. Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in the defence mechanism of the body against many infections and allergies. Additionally, it also works to balance the lipid profile of a body by controlling cholesterol. You can include nuts and seeds like almonds, sunflower seeds and roasted flaxseeds along with spinach, sweet potato, avocado and olive oil in your diet to reap the benefits.
3. Vitamin A: Again a fat-soluble vitamin and a powerful antioxidant for the body, Vitamin A helps reduce inflammation and scavenges free radicals to protect from damaging of cells. It also improves the immunity of the body as well as takes care of the skin and hair from damage. Active Vitamin A, which is also known as retinol, can be gained from animal based food while the precursor form of Vitamin A, known as beta-Carotene, can be derived from plant based food. Include eggs, milk, liver, carrots, yellow or orange vegetables such as squash, spinach and other leafy green vegetables in your diet for Vitamin A.
4. Omega 3 Fat: Omega 3 not only helps improve the immunity, but it is also important for the heart and brain. There are three major forms of Omega 3 - EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid), DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid). Out of the three, EPA and DHA can be included in your diet from animal derived sources such as sardines, salmon and tuna while ALA from plant based sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and mustard seeds.
5. Fibre: This nutrient plays a significant role in maintaining and improving the gut health of the body. The right amount of fibre in a diet not only improves the bowel movement, but also removes toxic substances from the body. There are 2 types of fibre that can be added to your diet: Insoluble and soluble fibre. While insoluble fibre adds bulk to the diet and improves the transit time of bowel to regulate the excretion cycle, soluble fibre on other hand gets soluble in water and traps cholesterol, heavy metal and toxic molecules that are then flushed out of the body. You should add lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet in the form of salad and smoothie along with roasted or grilled dishes for fibre.
Last but not the least, drink lots and lots of water! Water is essential for your overall health and works as a boon to keep you at bay from all diseases. Along with it, make up your mind to include at least one indoor physical activity or two of your choice for minimum 30 minutes per day to improve your immunity and body movement. You can start with yoga, cardio, pilates or other such activities to avoid the smog while keeping yourself active.