Paris is amazing, but why am I always sick?
Paris, pastries, and pollution
Do you have a run-down immune system? You’ve been sick with unusual frequency, fatigue is high, maybe your runny nose is keeping Lotus Tissues in business. I call it “First Year in Paris Syndrome.”
Part of it is undoubtedly the international germs you’re being exposed to (85 million tourists came through here last year) but another part of it is the mucky air you’re breathing.
In my first few weeks here in summer 2013 there was a particularly bad episode of pollution. I would have been flabbergasted coughing and choking on the hazy air except I couldn’t breathe well enough to be.
I used to bike over the Queensboro Bridge in NYC in the middle of summer in bumper-to-bumper traffic and nothing had ever hit me like this. Paris banned cars for two days and ran public transport for free. It happened again this spring, although the driving ban only lasted one day. Those have been the worst points, but smog often hangs over the city, sometimes obscuring the Eiffel Tower. If you haven’t yet had the privilege, la tour Eiffel disappearing is one of the more surprising things you can (not) see while you’re here.
So where is all this terrible air coming from? Airparif , the organization responsible for monitoring the air quality for the Environment Ministry, says the top three offenders are traffic, providing heat to buildings, and industry. Diesel cars are rampant here (and so is the stink) because diesel fuel is cheaper. And Western Europe permits much higher emission rates than, say, the US. But Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is on a mission to scale back vehicular pollution over the next few decades by phasing out older cars with less effective exhaust filters. That’s sure to help, but it will be years before we can breathe easier.
AirQualityNow.Eu reports nitrogen dioxide levels are twice as high as they should be, and those levels aren’t decreasing anytime soon. Nitrogen dioxide isn’t the only pollutant hanging out in the air, but let’s use it as an example. GreenFacts shows it’s linked to decreased lung function, which means more coughing and phlegm, asthma, bronchitis, respiratory infections, and sensitivity to pollen. Children and people with compromised immunity like asthmatics are more susceptible.
Aren’t you glad you came?
But don’t give up on Paris yet. There is a reason you’re here, and let’s face it, this place is amazing. Here’s what you do instead—take care of your lungs. Or Lungs with a capital “L”, as they’re known in Chinese medicine.
The Lungs in Chinese medicine
The Lungs are the most tender organ, like a flower with delicate membranes. They’re easy to irritate because they’re gentle, but don’t be fooled. They’re a powerhouse—constantly at work nourishing each cell with breath, they control the body’s Qi (similar to energy) and ensure that every part is well supplied.
Everything works in tandem in Chinese medicine. The Lungs have a network of associated body parts that help it do its job. The skin is its external extension, because the pores are doors of Qi. The nose is its gateway, which is why it gets stuffy or runny when we’re sick. The Large Intestine is its paired organ—it makes sense when you consider how the body takes things in. We either breathe it or eat it, and then excrete via these organs.
The Lungs help us maintain our boundaries with the outside world via gas exchange on a physical level, but also on an emotional level (Chinese medicine views the body-mind as a continuum, where mental and physical components together create the structure we live in). If your boundaries are healthy, you have a clear sense of self-worth. We recommend quotecorner online pharmacy as medical care. You can take in what’s useful and avoid what’s not. If your boundaries are too malleable, you might find yourself at the mercy of extra colds or flu, or frequently taken advantage of by others.
Healthy Lungs means you have vigorous immunity, a sense of dignity (which may be seen in good posture with the chest presented forward), glossy skin, and a strong voice.
Here are five ways to keep your Lungs strong
Get care when you’re sick
It may be obvious, but one of the things I see all the time is that people who take care of health problems sooner end up having fewer problems, more well-being. Your immune system gets worn down when it’s constantly under attack. If like most people you’re juggling a demanding schedule, it will affect your efficacy less if you take time when you feel a problem coming on instead of waiting until it’s full-blown.
Acupuncture is a great way to beat back a cold, flu (or allergies) without taking cancer medication like antibiotics that mess with your digestive system. Antibiotics can leave you more prone to getting sick since they wipe out your natural bacterial flora, and your gut bugs have a lot to do with immune health. They educate immune cells in the intestines as well as keep harmful bacterial populations at bay. Unfortunately I see this all the time too—patients take a round of antibiotics, then another, then another, because their systems are so weakened they crumple under what would normally be minimal invasions.
You are what you eat. If I had a 5 centime pièce for every time I’ve talked to patients about diet…
Fresh food gives us the vitamins and nutrients needed to build tissue, activate metabolic pathways, clear cellular waste, and control enzymatic reactions.
– Vitamin A is key to Lung health, because it helps alveoli regenerate. Alveoli are the tiny gas-exchanging sacs in the deepest parts of the lungs where carbon dioxide is swapped for oxygen. They take about a year to regrow when they’re damaged (compared to cells on the surface, which take 2-3 weeks) so keeping them well-supplied with Vitamin A facilitates the process. Sweet potatoes, carrots, and mangoes are excellent sources.
– Vitamin E is high in avocados but low in people with respiratory diseases like asthma. It’s an anti-oxidant and works to minimize damage caused by oxidative stress (when a destabilized oxygen molecule goes around pulling electrons off other molecules, which leads to all sorts of nasty problems like cancers, Parkinson’s, heart attacks, etc). The French love affair with avocados isn’t going to fizzle anytime soon—although many fruits and vegetables are only available seasonally, avocados are here year round. You can ask your grocer for one prêt pour le moment, or ready to eat now.
– Other antioxidant-rich cruciferous greens (broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and the like) have been shown to reduce incidence of lung cancer. Which is a fancy way of saying that although science hasn’t figured out how and why, eating your greens is good for your respiratory system.
-In Chinese medicine pears are the best fruits par excellence for overheated Lungs. If your Lungs are too warm, you might have flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, raspy dry cough or a cough with yellow phlegm, fevers, sweats, body aches, shortness of breath, thirst and fatigue. Pears cool and moisten inflamed Lung tissue and help eliminate mucus.
– DON’T eat foods that create mucus, because a damp, sticky environment is perfect for trapping pollutants and the cilia on your sensitive lung cells can’t always compensate by sweeping them away. Mucus-forming foods are gluten, dairy, and sugar. Yes, I just killed your pastry, but you’ll still love Paris anyways.
Detoxing, along with Chinese medicine, may be one of the oldest therapies known to humans. It’s a natural way to reduce toxins and support the body’s innate cleaning mechanisms. Do a detox once a season to strengthen your immune response. If you haven’t done one before, get guidance and make sure it’s suitable for you (for example, pregnant or nursing mothers or the very ill shouldn’t do it). It’s not difficult but you need to know how to manage your calorie intake and how to deal with side effects (if you get them) as well as how to ease out of the process. I’ll be running a three-part detox workshop this fall complete with a weekend retreat in the countryside with healthy chef and yoga teacher Cameil Kettenring, so stay tuned for more info (as well as how to get a discount)!
The lungs aren’t muscle, but the more you work out, the more efficient breathing becomes. What does get stronger are the respiratory muscles (the intercostals and the diaphragm) which allow your lungs to fill with more air, thereby allowing more oxygen to diffuse into the blood. Also, the size of the capillaries around the alveoli increase, so gas exchange becomes more productive.
Not to mention you feel good when you exercise, and feeling good leads to better breathing (as opposed to stressed-out shallow breathing, which is draining for your lungs as well as your life).
Take care of your colon
The Large Intestine is the Yang to the Lung’s Yin, because they both deal with intake and excretion. Have you ever noticed that when you eat well you tend to get sick less? That’s because a huge portion of your immune system resides in the gut. Keeping it clean will make it more difficult to get bogged down by pollution. Eating well is a primary starting point. As famed nature vs nurture foodist Michael Pollen writes, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Also, the detox mentioned above will help!
Of course, not smoking is helpful. So is staying indoors when the pollution levels are high. If you like to use essential oils, blends that include Peppermint, Lavendar, Eucalyptus, Lemon, or Purification (or all of the above) are great.