I try to take good care of myself -- a healthy diet, regular exercise, etc. -- but wonder if it is worthwhile when I hear news such as the recent report that long-term exposure to fine particles of soot in the air increases the risk of lung cancer and other lung and heart diseases. How can we protect ourselves from such environmental dangers? --Discouraged in New York

The report you refer to, on results of a study published in the March 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was somewhat alarming, particularly for city-dwellers like yourself. The study found that with each 10-microgram increase in fine particles of soot and sulfur dioxide-related pollution per cubic meter of air, the risks of heart and lung diseases increase, including an 8 percent increase in the risk of lung cancer. In fact, the study's authors were quoted as saying that the higher risk is equivalent to living with someone who smokes cigarettes. However, even with the added risk, lung cancer remains a relatively rare disease among non-smokers.

This study is particularly significant because it was so big -- it involved 500,000 people and lasted 16 years. Earlier studies had suggested an association between lung cancer and fine soot particles, but this new one is the first to show such a strong connection.

The good news is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving to implement regulations designed to lower environmental levels of the dangerous pollutants. Until recently, industry challenges to the regulations had held up their enforcement. You'll also be glad to know that the average level of microscopic soot particles in American cities has dropped from an average of 21 micrograms per cubic meter in 1980 to an average of 14 micrograms in 2000. The EPA standard sets the limit at 15 micrograms, but experts say some cities may have trouble reaching that goal quickly.

An important protective strategy, if you live in a big city, is to equip your home with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. You can get free-standing HEPA filter units for individual rooms or have a heating and ventilation contractor install units in your home?s ventilation system.

In the meantime, you can lower your own risks by taking the daily antioxidant regimen I recommend, which includes vitamin C, E, mixed carotenes, and the mineral selenium, to help maintain your body's natural defenses. Concentrated extracts of green tea, ginger and especially turmeric can help protect your body from common toxins.

I also suggest using the natural smoke detoxification formula Smokeshield from New Chapter, designed to help your body remove toxins from inhaled pollutants. The tumeric and other herbs it contains may also help prevent potential carcinogens from converting into their most toxic forms and may enhance the activity of the body's free-radical fighting compounds. You can take Smokeshield on a daily basis. You can find it in the Polaris Program through our Vitamin Advisor or in health food stores.

Dr. Andrew Weil

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