How to Keep Your Lungs Healthy
The lungs are a pair of breathing organs that are part of the respiratory system. Air passes into the lungs to supply the body with oxygen during inhalation, and passes out of the lungs to release carbon dioxide during exhalation. These processes are collectively called respiration. The respiratory system also includes the upper respiratory tract, consisting of the nasal passages, the larynx, and the trachea, and the lower respiratory tract, consisting of bronchi, bronchioles, and the air sacs or alveoli. Oxygen molecules enter the body from the lungs to the blood by passive diffusion, while carbon dioxide molecules from the body passively diffuse from the blood to be eliminated by the lungs.
Common Lung Diseases
Some of the most common medical conditions consist of lung diseases. In the US, millions of people suffer from various lung diseases, and most of these are associated with smoking, infection, and genetic abnormalities.
Common diseases that affect the airways include the following:
- COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a group of conditions which is characterized by an inability to expel air (exhale) normally, causing difficulty in breathing. These conditions include:
- Asthma, which is characterized by persistent inflammation of the airways, leading to occasional spasms, wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Asthmatic attacks are often triggered by infection, allergies, or pollution.
- Chronic bronchitis, characterized by a chronic coughing and mucus production.
- Emphysema, characterized by air trapped in the lungs due to chronic lung damage, resulting in difficulty blowing air out of the lungs.
- Acute bronchitis, which is due to an infection of the airways, that is usually caused by a virus.
- Cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition which is characterized by accumulation of mucus in the bronchi, leading to frequent lung infections.
Common conditions affecting the alveoli, which make up the lung tissues include:
- Pneumonia, which is usually caused by a bacterial infection.
- Tuberculosis, a chronic, progressive type of pneumonia caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
- Emphysema also results from damaged alveoli, and is usually caused by cigarette smoking.
- Pulmonary edema, where the air sacs are filled with fluid, which leaks out of small blood vessels in the lungs. This is usually due to heart failure.
- Lung cancer, which is now becoming a leading cause of death.
- ARDS (Acute respiratory distress syndrome), due to a severe lung injury, which may be caused by a serious lung disease.
- Pneumoconiosis, a group of conditions related to inhalation of substances that injure the lungs, such as coal and asbestos.
Other conditions such as autoimmune disease, pneumonia, and pulmonary edema can also affect the spaces between the air sacs (interstitium), causing interstitial lung disease.
How to Keep Your Lungs Healthy
- Many lung diseases are caused by viral and bacterial infections, which can be prevented by proper hand washing, staying away from crowds, especially during the flu season, and maintaining a healthy immune system.
- Vaccines may also help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases such as the flu.
- If you are allergic to certain substances such as pollen, consult a physician for proper treatment. Avoid exposure to these substances, which can trigger your allergic reactions and possible asthmatic attacks.
- Quit smoking if you smoke, and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke if you do not smoke. Cigarette smoking has been strongly linked to many lung conditions, including COPD and lung cancer.
- Avoid indoor air pollution by not using aerosol products and by using an exhaust fan when cooking.
- Reduce outdoor air pollution by not letting your car idle unnecessarily or burning substances in open air.
- Avoid inhaling toxic fumes from solvents, paints, and other chemicals. If you work with toxic chemicals, wear a protective face mask and report unsafe working practices and conditions.
- Strengthen your immune system against diseases by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly.
- Ask your doctor about taking health supplements to boost your immune system function.
Over the past decades, the use of dietary supplements has increased to support health, prevent disease, and sometimes, to treat some conditions. Although not considered as drugs, health supplements are widely used for many purposes, including the promotion of good health, weight loss, preventing and treating nutritional deficiencies, and boosting immune function. By supporting immune function, some studies have suggested that taking health supplements can help reduce one’s risk for disease and relieve symptoms of disease.
Some of the health supplements linked with lung health include:
- Vitamin A, which has been shown to improve breathing in mice with emphysema
- B-vitamins, which have been associated with lower risk of lung cancer
- Vitamin C, which is believed to protect against lung infections, COPD and lung cancer
- Vitamin D, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can help protect against COPD and interstitial lung disease
- Vitamin E, which has been associated with a lower risk of COPD
- N-Acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidant supplement that helps treat COPD symptoms
- Glucosamine and chondroitin are supplements with anti-inflammatory properties, and are often used to relieve joint diseases. One study, however, found that people who take these supplements have a lower risk of lung cancer.
- Coenzyme Q10, a powerful antioxidant that can improve oxygen utilization in the cells.
- Aspirin, an anti-inflammatory medication that can reduce the risk of lung cancer.
Herbal supplements that are believed to help the lungs include:
- Cordyceps and reishi mushrooms
- Zhu ling
- Licorice root
- Mullein flower and leaf
- Pleurisy root
- Lungwort Lichen
- Elecampane root
- Wild American Ginseng root
- Long pepper fruit
- Black peppercorns
- Ginger root
- Sweet Violet flower and leaf
- Salvia miltiorrhiza
This information should not be taken to replace of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care provider (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
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The Lung Association. Protect your lungs & prevent lung disease.
Health Food Guide. Vitamin A And Lung Health
The Globe and Mail. Protect your lungs with more vitamin B
NutraIngredients.Vitamin C intake corresponds to healthy lungs.
NIH. Vitamin D deficiency and chronic lung disease.
CNN. Vitamin E may protect lungs.
WebMD. Supplements and Herbal Medicine for COPD.
AACR. Associations of Herbal and Specialty Supplements with Lung and Colorectal Cancer Risk in the VITamins And Lifestyle Study.
HealthLine. Herbs & Supplements for COPD (Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema).
Healthy New Age. How You Can Detoxify Your Respiratory System with an Herbal Lung Cleanse and Rejuvenator.