As the survivalist saying goes, you have 3 days to survive without water and 3 weeks to survive without food. Unfortunately, without oxygen humans do not last longer than a couple of minutes. This means we are inhaling constantly and it isn’t always the “good stuff”.
Pollutants, intoxicants, and other chemicals abound even in our home. They cause major damage to our brain even if it is too difficult to tell that poor air quality is the culprit. This is why having an air purifier or air filtration system of some sort can be one of the best brain moves you can make.
We’ll cover why your air quality is compromised, some genetic factors to consider, and how to solve the problem with the latest technologies.
Air Quality Matters
Like many cities around the world, Medellin, Colombia is nestled in a valley between breathtaking mountains all around. From a specific region of Medellin up on a hill, the air seems fresh and clean as if you were in the United States or western Europe.
Descending into the downtown region to visit cultural monuments is another story. When I visited, my lungs strained simply going deeper into the valley. By the time we had visited the local museum, I was coughing at a steady rate. Within a couple of hours I had a massive headache.
This is not uncommon. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 3.5 million people alone die from poor indoor air quality (nevermind the outdoor pollution that I experienced in Medellin) .
This problem isn’t only in developing countries like Colombia, China, and India. In 2005, one study suggested that 200,000 people in America died because of air pollution . The quality of the oxygen we breathe is life or death.
Your Brain on Pollutants
The research is pretty clear on how pollutants impact our brain. In a 2011 study published in Molecular Psychiatry, scientists exposed mice to similar hours of pollution that a human in a large city might experience. After 10 months, they found the mice took longer to complete mazes and made more mistakes than those without pollution.
These mice had increased markers of inflammation in the brain (cytokines) and researchers could see physical changes in the brain. Some of these physical changes are also responsible for increased rates of depression . The 2012 Environmental Health Perspective study concluded there was a strong correlation between emotional health and pollutants.
Parents should pay particular attention. Children who have excessive pollution (whether in an urban environment or within the home) experience poorer memory recall and neurodegeneration . During critical years of brain development, the child’s brain is at risk.
Finally, pollutants accelerate the aging process, which may help contribute to the increasing rates of Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia. In one study, the brains of women who were exposed to pollutants were physically aged compared to those who were not .
The evidence points towards airborne pollution being one of the major culprits reducing our cognitive performance including:
- Depression & reduced happiness
- Neurodegeneration & brain aging
- Reduced memory capabilities
- Harming brain development
Genetic Response to Pollution
Beyond the standard problems associated with pollution, there is individual variation from person to person. Just like our physical characteristics that we can see (i.e: eye color, hair color etc), there are many genetic variations that we cannot see and some of them relate to the detoxification systems in our body.
By taking a test from 23andme and then combining the data with a tool called Promethease, I found a couple of snips (or genes) that might cause me problems. They showed that I metabolized pollutants slowly, which means that my detoxification systems are slow and less effective than average.
This directly influenced my decision to buy an air filtration system and it helps me supplement with nootropics to get the best results. As I’ll show below, none of this was overly expensive.
Home Air Purifier: Clean Air First
Nootropics and cognitive enhancing substances are great for mental performance, but when it comes to cleaning our air the best way to do that is… an air cleaner.
It works best to focus on removing poor quality air from our lives. This can be done in a couple of steps:
- Identify any problems (Example: see if there is mold where you live)
- Solve the problem with dehumidifier and air purifier units
Testing for mold and other pollutants can be relatively inexpensive. Depending on where you live, no more than $3-500. If there is mold, removing it can be a bit more expensive, but worth it for overall health (or worth the move if it is too problematic).
The next step is to get an air purifier, but not just any air cleaner. You want to make sure the product that you purchase has filtration systems that are able to handle very small particles in your home. Remember, you might not be able to solve the air pollution in your city (besides moving), but you can solve the air quality in your home and that is important enough.
To remove some of the smallest (but most problematic) molecules, it is best to use filters that are HEPA rated, which should mean that 99.7% of particles larger than 300 nanometers are blocked. However, this is the “old” standard and there are new technologies. Both Ben Greenfield and Dave Asprey (popular “biohackers”) have mentioned HEPA filters, but there is something better.
The air purifier I’ve found is a bit more expensive, but worth it. The Molekule uses a system of PECO (photo electrochemical oxidation) that destroys particles 1000 times smaller than HEPA filters (0.1 nanometers vs. 300 nanometers).
As you can see, the PECO is more powerful than traditional HEPA or the carbon option:
The secret is in using light to destroy particles. In fact, a study of the filter on 28 subjects with asthma and allergies found that using the Molekule could normalize their symptoms. This is by far the most valuable technology and tool available for purifying air within your home.
Nootropics to Combat Airborne Pollutants
Ridding the home of toxins is the first (and biggest) step towards improving air quality and avoiding the side effects of bad air. Unfortunately, it isn’t always so easy with your environment outside the home.
As nice as living in the country (or smaller cities) might be, it is not a luxury that we can all afford. If we are in polluted areas, there are a few things we can do:
Sulforaphane – One major health benefit of cruciferous vegetables is a compound called sulforaphane. Finding the right supplement is key (they’re not all made the same), but sulforaphane is one of the most powerful detoxification agents because it activates various heat shock proteins .
Omega-3 (DHA / EPA) – It seems that omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) are the remedy for everything these days. A 2016 study found that omega-3 fatty acids could reduce inflammation and oxidative stress caused by pollution by up to 30 – 50% in animal models . If you’re not taking fish oil already, this is yet another reminder of why it’s important to do so.
B-Vitamins – In one study, B-vitamins were used to explore their protective effects against pollution. Scientists gave 50 mg vitamin B6 and 1 mg of vitamin B12 and found that this combination could reduce harmful effects to mitochondrial DNA by up to 28 – 76% . This is a major change at the cellular health level and while it may be related to deficiency, it is favorable evidence nonetheless.
Therefore, an anti-pollution nootropic stack might look something like this:
- 10 – 60 mg Sulforaphane per day (Avmacol brand)
- 1500 mg Omega-3 (DHA / EPA)
- 50 mg vitamin B6
- 1 mg vitamin B12
This Sounds Expensive: Annual Budget for Air Quality
It might seem like everything I’ve mentioned thus far will be expensive, but it does not have to be expensive. Even with the best air purifier that you can find, the prices are not high and it’s more of an investment in your health than wasteful spending. Here is a breakdown of the basic essentials I’ve mentioned in this article:
The up front cost to understand your unique biochemistry and then filter out the pollutants might seem high, but it will make a big difference in what is arguably the most important resource for living: oxygen.
Modern civilization and industry have provided us much, but the pollution that comes alongside that (both inside and outside the house) is destroying our brains in the same way many foods destroy our bodies. Investing in a quality air purifier and all of the requisite detoxification regimes can not only help in the short-term, but prevent long-term decline and disease.