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The Importance of Clean Indoor Air

Detoxification Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

It Is Important to Have Clean Indoor Air

An image of a clogged, dusty air conditionerMost Americans spend up to 90% of their time inside, so it is important to have clean indoor air. The extent of air pollution is well known and its effects on the human body are worrying. Air pollution levels are getting worse and people are repeatedly warned about the poor air quality, especially in large cities.

But did you know the air in your own home may be polluted up to ten times more than the air you breathe outside? We do not see many warnings about the cause and effect of indoor air pollution.

Interestingly, the lack of clean indoor air holds the distinction of being one of the top five environmental risks to public health. And that’s the air you breathe in your own home!

This fact makes it more important for you to understand the importance of clean indoor air.

Short-term symptoms resulting from a lack of clean indoor air range from coughing, sneezing, and fatigue to upper respiratory congestion. Long-term symptoms include autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, and asthma.

The severity of your symptoms may depend on the extent of the indoor air pollution, how long you’re exposed to it and if you have any existing, long term health conditions.

Indoor Air Pollution and its effects

The lack of clean indoor air in your home affects your health and the health of everyone in your family. Literally every room in your home contains at least one source of indoor air pollution.  Let us discuss a few of the many substances and compounds that contribute to a lack of clean indoor air.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

Volatile organic compounds or VOC are compounds that are extensively found in products such as paints, adhesives, carpets, and vinyl flooring. These are also found in common household products like air fresheners, makeup, and cleaning supplies. Cooking is also found to release VOCs at home.

VOCs are therefore easily found in every home and posing a substantial risk to your health. Their concentrations are even higher in winter than in summer, probably because the windows remain shut and ventilation is restricted. Respiratory, allergic and immune effects are associated with VOCs. People who already suffer from asthma and skin sensitivities may worsen their condition if there is a lack of clean indoor air.


Another compound that is widely responsible for the lack of clean indoor air is formaldehyde. Almost all homes contain products with formaldehyde in them. These products release the formaldehyde, sometimes slowly, and pollute your clean indoor air.

Particleboard, permanent press fabrics, glues, and paper product coatings give you an idea of how rampant this chemical has become in your home. Some of the symptoms of exposure include burning feelings in your eyes and throat, difficulty breathing, and nausea. Exposure to enough formaldehyde brings on attacks in people with asthma.

Dust and Dust Mites

Once again, just about every home contains dust and dust mites. Because they live in mattresses, carpet, curtains, and furniture.

Susceptible people suffer from the allergens these microscopic insects produce, causing skin rash and respiratory problems. Unbeknown to most of us, dust and dust mites contribute significantly, to the lack of clean indoor air in most of our homes.

Pet Dander

Many households contain pets. And pets mean pet dander. These tiny particles that flake off from the skin of pets cause allergic reactions in a lot of people. Congestion, sneezing and wheezing usually result.

How To Have Clean Indoor Air

An image of a man changing the air filterThere are several steps you can take to have clean indoor air. One of the simplest steps requires a change in air filters you use in your home. Installing HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters in your air conditioner helps remove more of the pollutants.

Given the high concentration of VOC in the air from the cleaning supplies, you could try to replace your cleaning supplies with ingredients that are natural. Vinegar cleans very well or better than many commercial cleaners. Tea tree oil can replace chemical disinfectants. Having plants at home can help detoxify the air and essential oils can be used instead of using commercial sprays.

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response

Your adrenal glands serve as first responders whenever stress affects your body. Because your adrenals release cortisol, which is the main stress-fighting hormone, along with other hormones, these glands are the first to counter the effects of stress.

Unfortunately, stress today often becomes chronic and severe. When this happens, the burden placed on your adrenals can become more than they can handle. They are not able to produce and release enough cortisol to fight the effects of stress.

When this happens the subtle symptoms of AFS begin. Even though the symptoms are subtle at the beginning, in the long term, they accumulate and affect your health and quality of life.

One of the major issues of AFS has to do with the difficulty healthcare professionals have in assessing it. One of the comprehensive methods of assessing and addressing AFS is the NEM stress response model.

This model suggests that your body contains six circuits that work together to help you deal with stress. Each circuit consists of three organs or systems that usually overlap with one another. As these circuits are inter-related, if one circuit is affected by the accumulated stress, the other circuits are subsequently affected, as well.

If you are overwhelmed due to intense stress, then the increasing burden makes the circuits dysfunctional. This may cause severe symptoms impacting your health negatively.

Detoxification Circuit

Lack of clean indoor air is considered as a prominent source of stress. And, in such a situation, the detoxification circuit would feel the effects first.

The detoxification circuit contains the liver, interstitium, and immune system. As long as these three organs and systems remain in balance, this circuit functions normally.

However, breathing polluted indoor air triggers a stress response from your body and contributes to imbalances in this circuit. When there is a pressure on the adrenals to release more cortisol, they get overwhelmed. As your adrenals become less able to supply cortisol, the NEM stress response is activated.


Polluted air in your home acts as a toxin to your body, stressing the importance of clean indoor air. Your liver is the main organ responsible for filtering out toxins that enter your body. The longer your exposure to reduced clean indoor air, the harder your liver works to remove those toxins from your body.

If you already suffer from a physical condition such as AFS that compromises your liver function, the lack of clean indoor air makes the condition worse. Your liver’s efficiency at removing toxins decreases because of fewer fully functioning liver cells available and because of inflammation. The blood flow to your liver may be reduced in this condition, which means the toxins will remain circulating through your body instead of being eliminated.


The interstitium is the system of connected fluid-filled cells that help to transport many substances to be carried through your body. If your liver stops removing enough toxins due to stress like the lack of clean indoor air, these toxins will be transported and spread throughout your body by the interstitium.

With a weak liver, the toxins back up to the interstitium, causing congestion. With time, the interstitium reduces its capacity to transport substances. As a result, the toxins would have not only spread to different organs, they have also accumulated in large amounts. The interstitium becomes ineffective and disbalances the circuit.

Immune System

The third part of the detoxification circuit, your immune system, becomes aware of this build-up of toxins and begins viewing them as threats to your health. The presence of the toxins triggers the immune system to attack the toxins in an effort to detoxify the body.

This natural response increases the amount of inflammation in your body, leading to more health issues. With a high enough level of toxins to fight, your immune system may switch into overdrive. An overactive immune system leads to the development of autoimmune conditions. This means your immune system attacks healthy cells that it misidentifies as threats.

Metabolites and Reactive Metabolite Overload (RMO)

Every substance that enters your body is broken down into smaller particles either for absorption or removal from your body. These small particles are called metabolites. The metabolites which are removed from the body are by-products of metabolism. Most are inert and easily removed by your liver.

But if your liver isn’t functioning well, these metabolites may remain in your body. Some of them become reactive metabolites, interacting with others.

With high-stress levels like the lack of clean indoor air combined with other factors, the level of reactive metabolites may become too great for your body to deal with, it causes a condition called reactive metabolite overload. This leads to dysregulation of your detoxification circuit and to significant symptoms.


Clean indoor air is necessary for your continued good health. But the multiple sources of pollution in your home make clean indoor air unavailable.

The sources of indoor air pollution are found in every home. Cleaning products contain VOCs that harm your health in significant ways. Carpets, curtains, and upholstered furniture release harmful gasses at home.

A microscopic image of dust mitesEvery home has dust and dust mites. Pet dander makes up another common form of indoor air pollution. These cause troubling breathing problems and increase the likelihood of asthma-related episodes.

There are some ways to achieve clean indoor air. Installing HEPA filters in your air conditioning unit works to remove more of the pollutants found there. Having more plants indoors cleans the air better than commercial air fresheners. Using vinegar and other natural substances instead of commercial products adds to clean indoor air.

© Copyright 2020 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

The lack of clean indoor air poses a significant threat to your overall health. Multiple sources of indoor air pollution can be found in any home. Since you spend up to 90% of your time indoors, this pollution is a serious health hazard.

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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