It’s the time of year when many of us warm to a crackling fire in the open hearth, or turn to wood burning stoves to manage heating bills. But November is also COPD Awareness month — and new research suggests that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is significantly aggravated by exposure to wood smoke (including smoke from wildfires that also rage around this time of year).

Of the 1,861 mainly female (81%) former and current smokers (ages 40-75) enrolled in a University of Mexico study, 28% reported being exposed to wood smoke, be it from a fireplace, stove, or outdoor campfires. Those smokers and non-smokers around wood smoke were 9% more likely to have trouble breathing — and specifically 11% more likely to suffer bronchitis symptoms. The effect is all the more worrisome given that COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Are you exposed to wood smoke? The simplest answer is that if you can smell it, you’re exposed. The burning of any plant matter — whether it’s wood, tobacco, cannabis, or incense — releases toxins both carcinogenic and inflammatory. Breathing plant smoke in, directly or indirectly, contributes to lung disease, including cancer. Given that November also occasions the Great American Smokeout, why not burn plants less and eat plants more? People who eat the most fruit have a 24% lower risk of developing lung cancer. Hungry for more knowledge?
  • British researchers found that children who ate more bananas experienced fewer breathing problems.
  • Researchers found that bromelain — an enzyme in pineapple — appeared to reduce inflammation associated with asthma.
  • A study from the John Hopkins School of Public Health found that compounds in broccoli helped activate the lung’s defense systems.

Published November 1, 2011