Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Air We Breathe

Clean Air -- an odd concept in a way. We assume it, take it for granted; it's invisible, odorless, and can't be felt, except when it's moving. It is so much a part of daily existence that most of us hardly give it notice, and yet, it's a mandatory essential part of staying alive. Cut it off for even five minutes and you're in fatal trouble. Clean air supplies not only the oxygen we need, but apart from that obvious dimension, breathing accomplishes two other vital functions. Breathing clean air is important in regulating our body's acid-base balance, as well as being a crucial pathway for detoxification. Breathing is one of the four toxin elimination pathways the body uses to cleanse itself.

So, good health relies heavily on clean air and a vital breathing mechanism. Urban environments pose particular health challenges to our good health. Urban environments contain much higher levels of contaminants and toxins in the air we breathe. While exercising is an important health thing to do for oneself, at least half of the benefit from exercising is from the increased circulation of clean air through our lungs and bodies. When I'm walking or jogging along a busy street I always get creeped out by the question that pops up in my head: "How much carbon monoxide and carbon emissions am I breathing from all these cars going by?" Even the air inside our homes, offices, or schools can be suspect, what with the large number of chemicals present in floor and wall coverings, furniture, construction materials, and central heating/air conditioning systems. The impact on one's breathing from just these sources can be substantial. That said, who in their right mind would then ADD to it by smoking -- a practice I still see being done with alarming frequency!

Lest you think that moving to a less developed nation solves the problem, it doesn't. Consider how in the developing world cooking frequently occurs over an open fire inside whatever structure is being used for a house. The concentrated second-hand smoke from cook fires creates a large public health issue where the incidence of pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and lung cancer tend to run very high. So, the poorest of the world's poor get slammed with these devastating illnesses where there is poor health care. Add to it that the average family in Guatemala, for instance, spends up to a third of their income for firewood. So, they make themselves poorer only to give themselves serious pulmonary disease.

What can you do?
Sadly, in our urban American environment there isn't a lot -- other than to be conscious of where you are and what is going on around you from a pollution aspect -- most importantly when exercising. Supporting clean air regulations at every level of government is another consideration.

In developing countries -- one organization, Ahuyu.org, is working to supply poor peasants in Guatemala with fuel efficient cook stoves. These cook stoves cut down on the amount of firewood needed (reducing deforestation and leaving more disposable income available), and improves air quality (improving health.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Global Partnerships

Two things have recently come together for me. First, I checked the world map of who all has been reading this blog and was totally stunned that rather than a bunch of local people, there were far many more of you from all around the world reading my occasional missives. So, a belated welcome to all of you reading this from the Philippines, India, Japan, Europe, as well as the eastern USA. The second thing that has come to me is the world of micro-lending and in particular Global Partners (www.globalpartners.org) and Kiva (www.kiva.org).

Global Partners are doing a phenomenal thing loaning small amounts of money to Central and South American business people living under the poverty line. I am struck by the transformation of lives this brings. An aspect I had not really thought about was that women around the world are prone to cervical cancer. In addition to small business loans, Global Partners are allowing the use of their network to bring cervical and breast cancer screening tools to women caught in poverty.

Cervical cancer is probably the most easily detected and addressed of all cancers. It is clearly associated with the presence of the HPV virus. There is really very little excuse for cervical cancer taking a woman's life due to the susceptibility of the HPV virus to a number of natural vitamins, minerals, and herbs. Even if the natural treatments fail, there are fairly simple (though not necessarily comfortable) surgical procedures that eliminate this type of cancer. So my advice here is if you are female or know someone close to you who is female, wherever you live, get a PAP smear done.