Maintaining Your Lung Health

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

If you’re striving for optimal health, you cannot ignore your lung health. In fact, lung health is absolutely critical for a well-functioning body.

To better understand the crucial role your lungs play in your immune health, let’s first take a moment to visualise the lungs inside your body.

The lungs sit in the chest and are filled with tiny structures called alveoli. These small air sacs are surrounded by tiny blood vessels called capillaries which allow for the exchange of two gases: oxygen which flows into the lungs from outside, and carbon dioxide which flows out of the body. Minute by minute, the lungs pull in air from the environment, and coordinating this life-giving exchange of gases.

As such, your lungs have the closest access to the outside world. They are in direct contact with the environment with each breath you take. They are the first defense in your body’s protection and separation from harmful pathogens or particles.

The Lung’s Immune Defense

The lungs are an important part of immune system, protecting your respiratory system from infections. Several structures help your lung’s protect the body:

Epithelial cells and mucus

Your lungs are lined with thin epithelial cells. These cells play a role in gas exchange, but they also secrete mucus into the alveoli. This mucus keeps the airways moistened and traps any unwanted particles that you’ve inhaled from getting deeper into your system.

Cilia

Small hairs called “cilia” help move this unwanted debris either into the throat, where you will either cough it up and out of the body or swallow it and destroy it in the gut.

Macrophages

The lung’s epithelial lining also contains specialised white blood cells (called “macrophages”) which work to engulf and destroy any foreign particles found in the lungs.

Because the lungs provide such a strong initial defense against pathogens, weakness in the lungs can quickly lead to illness. Without a strong immune response in the lungs, we have the tendency to catch colds and flus, be prone to infectious illnesses, or even simply feel run-down. Your immune system is trying, but it can’t fully do its protective job.

Today’s Challenges with Lung Health

The current global circumstances have made many of us wonder how we can better protect our lungs and prevent illness. Between viral pandemics, infections, and ongoing pollution, our lungs may be more vulnerable than ever before.

To make matters worse, in California, wildfires are raging through the country leaving nothing but devastation and affecting countless people! Here in Australia, we have had a long battle with bushfires and are now preparing again for the upcoming fire season. Just a few days ago, we had the first fire burn right near our place. Almost immediately we noticed the effects of smoke on our health: from increased asthma to stinging eyes, headaches, and scratchy throats. We’re hoping this fire season be much different from the tragic devastation of last year, but we have to prepare for the worst and protect our lungs.

You may have little control over the external world, but you do have extraordinary control over your body and your habits. Your body has an amazing natural defense system that is designed to protect the lungs and keep dirt and germs from our external world away from our inner world. But, your immune system and lungs need your support to do their jobs properly!

Inflammation and Lung Health

Inflammation is at the core of all diseases. Chronic inflammation develops as a result of many factors including poor diet, chronic stress, lack of sleep, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and toxic exposure from our environment. This chronic inflammation increases the risk of disease development, including lung disease. A system suffering from chronic inflammation will eventually make your immune system and lungs more vulnerable to infections – including respiratory infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and more.

Outdoor and Indoor Toxic Exposure

Air pollution is a huge issue in our modern world! Emissions from cars and other forms of transportation, cigarette smoke, wildfire smoke, landfills and waste, agricultural activities, burning fossil fuels, mining operations, natural events, indoor pollution… it’s impossible to completely escape the toxins in our environment.

Cigarette Smoking

We are now well aware that smoking cigarettes is incredibly dangerous and damaging to the lungs. This habit increases the risk of developing (and worsens the symptoms of) asthma, allergies, and chronic upper respiratory tract issues. The dangers of smoking don’t stop with the smoker – regular exposure to second-hand smoke can be just as harmful to your lungs.

Air Pollution

Unfortunately, air pollution can be just as harmful as smoking cigarettes. It has been found that air pollution can cause asthma, chronic respiratory issues, lung infections, allergies, reduced lung function, chronic bronchitis, and even lung cancer.

Therefore, improving air quality is critical for maintaining our health now and in the long run. As mentioned above, we don’t have a lot of control over our external environment, but we can have a level of control over our indoor environments.

Mould and Mycotoxins

Mould and mycotoxins are responsible for causing a host of respiratory symptoms, compromising the immune system, and leading to widespread damage and inflammation. Unfortunately, mould is also relatively common and found in many homes.

Mould enters our bodies through the respiratory tract as we breathe in the spores. Mould has the ability to grow almost anywhere (especially indoors) as it thrives in damp, musty and dark areas such as bathrooms, basements, and attics.

While some people don’t notice any health changes when exposed to mould, others notice major impacts to their lung health, breathing capacity, and general wellness. Many also develop allergies, infections, and asthma.

Investing in a quality air filtration system in your home (and/or office!) can do wonders for improving your air quality and the health of your lungs. You can also use houseplants to clean the air, as plants not only add oxygen but also remove toxins and impurities from the air. Some of the best plants to purify the air include ferns, snake plants, aloe vera, spider plants, English ivy, and peace lilies.

Improving Our Detoxification Pathways

Improving your detox pathways is especially important if your lung health has been compromised due to mould exposure, air pollution/toxicity, allergens, infections, or inflammatory factors. Our body also eliminates toxins through pathways like defecation, urination, and perspiration in addition to respiration. Supporting these pathways is important to ensure we are able to excrete toxins effectively. Here’s how:

  • Our liver is the organ most important to the processing and breakdown of toxins and metabolic wastes in the body. Drinking liver-supportive teas and eating plenty of cruciferous veggies like cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and others. Deficiencies in essential nutrients like B6, B12, folate, zinc, selenium, and magnesium will limit the livers detoxification capacity. Supplement with these vitamins to encourage better liver detoxification.
  • Be sure to include soluble and insoluble fibre and resistant starch in your daily diet. These are important for the health of the gut generally and for promoting daily elimination of wastes via the bowels. One to three bowel movements a day is ideal.
  • Consume at least 1.5-2 L of filtered water as part of your daily routine. Adequate fluid intake is essential as kidneys are responsible for the elimination of metabolic and ingested wastes and toxins.
  • Sauna therapy is an extremely effective way to support the elimination of toxins through the skin. Dry skin brushing is also an effective way of enhancing the skin’s function as an organ of elimination.
  • Coffee enemas can be a great way to detoxify and enhance glutathione enzyme production. In addition, rectal ozone therapy can help boost your Nrf2 pathway – thus activating our antioxidant system. 
  • Regular physical activity is important for promoting good circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Rebounding, trampolining, skipping and sauna sessions are effective ways of improving and maintaining these functions.
  • Pulse electromagnetic field frequency (PEMF) therapy can also help facilitate detoxification and overall cell vitality.

Dietary Influences on Your Lung Health 

The effect of diet on the development of the human immune system begins early – from the embryonic stage. If, during pregnancy, the mother receives enough protein, vitamins, and minerals, the foetus will develop to be strong and healthy. But, if the immune system does not efficiently develop in this period, it cannot properly defend against pathogens in the future.

After birth, this immune support continues as breast milk offers the new baby sufficient vitamins and minerals. This encourages healthy growth and development. It has been clearly shown that even a single nutritional deficiency can impact immune function and thus increase susceptibility to infectious disease. Nutrition is therefore critical to provide a strong immunity against environmental pathogens from the beginning of our lives onward.

Chronic inflammation is also a major factor in poor immune health. Over time, inflammation reduces your immune function, therefore making you more vulnerable to upper respiratory tract infections and poor lung health. Eating a highly nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet is one of the best ways to reduce chronic inflammation and support your lungs.   

  • Remove inflammatory foods such as refined sugar, refined oil, deep-fried foods, junk food, artificial ingredients, sodas, sugary drinks, and processed foods.
  • Consume foods high in B-vitamins and calcium, such as almonds, beans, whole grains (if no allergy), dark leafy greens (spinach and kale), and sea vegetables.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich foods, including fruits (blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes) and vegetables (squash and bell peppers).
  • Consume fresh garlic and turmeric in the diet as they are both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory.
  • Including organic and healthy protein sources from meat, poultry, fish and/or plant-based proteins.
  • Use healthy cooking oils, such as olive oil or coconut oil. Healthy fats from avocado, omega 3 fatty acids from fish such as salmon can help to reduce inflammation and support immunity.
  • Avoid any foods you are intolerant to. Food intolerances can cause inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract, reducing your ability to absorb nutrients and compromising the gut barrier.
  • Dietary fibre is a good source of microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, which provides you with energy and improves your gut health.
  • A fibre-rich diet both enhances the intestinal microbiota as well as the lung microbiota, indicating influence of nutrition on lung immunity.

The Importance of Sleep and Stress Management

Reducing stress levels and improving your quality of sleep are two key steps to lowering systemic inflammation, supporting your immune system and reducing your overall health.

Chronic stress dysregulates the immune system’s normal functionality via pro-inflammatory responses. Even if we have an exceptionally healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, diet, and sleep patterns, stress can negate the positive effects we get from these habits.

In addition to managing your stress, sleep is incredibly important for a strong immune system. When asleep, T-cells and proteins called cytokines are released, both of which play important roles in a healthy immune response. Getting an average of 8 hours of sleep per night increases your immunity to the common cold by 32%, compared to individuals who sleep 5 hours or less per night.

Recommendations for Better Sleep
  • Create a habit of going to bed at the same time each night. The human body naturally operates according to a clock, and when it’s time for bed, your body naturally becomes tired.
  • Wake up at the same time each day. Keeping a sleeping and waking pattern keeps your body in tune with its natural clock. Eventually, your body will adjust to your sleeping patterns and will wake up naturally, at the same time every morning, without an alarm.
  • Exercise daily. Incorporating regular exercise into your schedule is proven to increase sleep quality.
  • Spend time outdoors in natural sunlight each day. Receiving natural light from the sun produces melatonin, which is integral for getting quality sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom clean, uncluttered, and well-ventilated.
  • Turn off all electrical devices, WIFI, and phones while in bed.
  • Stay away from computer screens, cell phones, TV, etc. at least two hours before your bedtime – rather read a book!
  • Drinking calming sleep tea’s before bed.
  • Using organic bedding like sheets, pillowcases, and mattresses can help improve sleep quality.

Exercise for Lung Health and Immunity

Does movement support your lung health? Yes, physical exercise helps to move oxygen to your lungs, enhancing lymphatic function and sports detoxification. Physical fitness has shown to improve immune response to chronic low-grade inflammation. At least 30 minutes of exercise per day (roughly 5 days a week) is the best recommendation for most people.

Supplementation 

Nutrient/Supplement

Rationale

Vitamin D

Studies suggest vitamin D plays a significant role in the regulation of the human immune system and may reduce the risk of certain bacterial and viral infections. Vitamin D deficiency can increase lung permeability and reduce the integrity of your pulmonary barrier. It has been concluded that Vitamin D reduces the severity, duration as well as risk of respiratory tract infections.

Vitamin A, C & E

Vitamin A plays a role in proper lung development (in embryonic stage) and repair of damaged lung tissue. Animal models showed that mice with low vitamin A levels were more likely to develop emphysema after 3 months of exposure to cigarette smoke compared to mice with normal vitamin A levels. Vitamin E levels are generally low in smokers, increasing their susceptibility to free radical damage. A review of population studies reported that low levels of vitamin E and C were associated with more wheezing, phlegm, and dyspnea.  Vitamin is a powerful antioxidant and enhances the activity as well as function of your immune cells. Deficiency in vitamin C results not only in impaired immunity but also increased susceptibility for infections such as respiratory tract infections.

Probiotics

 

Maintaining gut wall integrity and systemic immunity is imperative to support and improve conditions of the lung.

Quercetin

 

 

Quercetin may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in acute lung injury. It has also been found to decrease the risk of asthma and other lung diseases.

N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)

NAC, is a glutathione precursor and can dissolve mucus due to its mucolytic properties, in addition to that this nutrient can repair damage caused by reactive oxygen species.

A comprehensive review of studies reported that oral NAC lowered the risk of exacerbations and improved symptoms in patients with chronic bronchitis compared to placebo.

Zinc

Zinc helps maintain a healthy immune system, and zinc deficiency has been linked to significant immune impairment and susceptibility to infections. Zinc also plays a role in mediating the inflammatory response in your body. Zinc deficiency affects a very large percentage of the population therefore correcting this deficiency may be important.

Omega-3 fatty acids

 

 

Omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) help protect against damaging inflammatory reactions, build healthy cell membranes and repair tissues.

Conclusion

It is possible to improve and maintain our lung health identifying and addressing the functional causes and nutritional deficiencies linked to it. Between viral pandemics, infections, and ongoing pollution, our lungs may be more vulnerable than ever before. If you're striving for optimal health, you cannot ignore the health of your amazing lungs. 

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