Lung health matters so much more than many of us realize. Did you know that you take more than 6 million breaths per year?
Or that your lungs play many roles besides ‘just’ helping you breathe?
And were you aware that there are several all-natural actions that can help improve lung health?
In this article, I’ll discuss lifestyle and dietary tips that are worth implementing if you want to keep your lungs strong and healthy. You’ll also discover what a true and healthy lung cleans is really about.
Fun facts about the lungs
- The lungs exist as a pair but they’re not identical. The left lung weighs slightly less and has a smaller capacity than the right lung which is shorter to make room for the liver below.
- The heart and other structures separate the lungs and each lung is enclosed in its own pleural sac. This is why one lung can keep working even if the other one is punctured or collapses (such as in a collision).
- Each lung is enclosed within two membranes which are separated by pleural fluid. This pleural fluid decreases friction between the membranes thus helping them slide easily over one another during breathing. Inflammation of the pleural fluid is painful and can lead to fluid accumulation between the membranes.
- The lungs don’t have any muscles to pump air in and out. They rely mainly on the muscle below the lungs (the diaphragm) to move.
As you can see above, the respiratory system consists of the trachea (the windpipe) which branches out, at the carina, into two bronchi that lead to each lung. The bronchi continue to branch forming smaller bronchi that divide into bronchioles.
Bronchioles have tiny air sacs also known as alveoli. The alveoli have many capillaries (very thin blood vessels) in their walls. The oxygen we breathe in passes through the alveoli, into the capillaries and then into the blood.
- We have about 480 million alveoli. Together, these alveoli provide a surface area that is about half the area of a tennis court!
What do the lungs do? (Number 3 will surprise you)
Yes, the lungs help us breathe. (That is, the lungs expand and suck in air when the diaphragm contracts. They then compress to expel carbon dioxide as the diaphragm relaxes.)
But that’s not all the lungs do.
Healthy lungs also help:
- Keep blood pressure within a healthy range – angiotensin I is converted to angiotensin II in the lungs. This triggers the production of aldosterone by the adrenal cortex and eventually increases blood volume and blood pressure back to normal.
- Protect the heart against shocks by acting as a shock absorber.
- Reduce risks of infections – When exposed to a pathogen (harmful bacteria), the lungs can create an antibody response. The antibodies produced then work together to eliminate the pathogen and decrease its ability to colonize the respiratory tract.
- Clear the mucus that lines the respiratory tract – This mucus traps bacteria and dust particles.
- Remove small air bubbles that can occur in the blood.
- Communication – Without lungs, we wouldn’t be able to talk.
- Maintain a healthy blood pH – The lungs increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the body if the blood’s pH isn’t acidic enough. Conversely, if the blood is too acidic, the lungs will decrease carbon dioxide levels in the body.
Do you need a ‘lungs cleanse or detox’ for optimal lung health?
Tobacco smoke contains over 7000 toxic chemicals, 60 of which are known to cause cancer. So, if you’re a smoker, you really want to help your body get rid of these toxins.
However, even if you don’t smoke, you’re still exposed to various pollutants such as car exhaust, detergents, dirt, and dust. As such, anyone who lives in the modern world would benefit from a lung ‘cleanse’.
But don’t worry: you won’t need to go on a juice fast or prepare some crazy concotions to improve your lung health. You see, a true and healthy lung detox or cleanse simply implies supporting your lungs’ innate detox mechanisms as discussed below.
Tips to improve lung health and cleanse your lungs
Take out the bad stuff which prevent your lungs from working at full capacity.
1. Remove food triggers
Your doctor or nutritionist said that wheat, dairy, soy, vegetable oils etc. pose no threat to your health?
Before you take this as a fact, why not try eliminating these foods for at least a month to see whether your lung health (and overall health) improve or not?
This is what is called an ‘n=1’ experiment. And this is the best way to find out what works for YOU and what doesn’t.
· Wheat, grains, sugar, and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Wondering what wheat, grains, sugar, and HFCS have in common?
Well, by damaging the lining of the small intestine, these foods can cause inflammation in the respiratory tract.
Inflammation in the lungs could result in swelling of the bronchial tubes as well as increased mucus production. The excess mucus can cause cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
If left untreated, inflammation may even cause scarring within the lungs – this would cause a serious decline in lung health.
· Food Additives
Sulfites (present in dried fruits, wine, beer, many processed foods), monosodium glutamate (MSG), food colorings, salicylates, benzoates and yeast can adversely impact lung health. It appears that, in some individuals, these food additives can trigger respiratory symptoms by irritating the respiratory tract.
Note: If you often cough, wheeze, or feel your throat ‘tightening’ after eating certain foods, you may want to check this article about histamine intolerance.
· Industrial seed oils and trans fats
If you want healthy lungs, you need to ditch industrial seed oils such as oils of canola, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, and corn.
You also want to steer clear of margarines and any form of hydrogenated fats.
Wondering what dietary fat has to do with lung health?
Do you remember the alveoli, the tiny sacs that allow oxygen from the air we breathe in to diffuse in the blood? Well, these tiny sacs produce a fatty substance known as ‘lung surfactant’.
To make this lung surfactant, the body needs fat.
If your diet contains only unhealthy fats, your body will use these nasty fats to produce the lung surfactant. And your lung health will suffer.
In fact, some studies suggest that consumption of trans fats could explain why more and more children now suffer from asthma.
Note: Industrial seed oils and trans fats also cause inflammation that can damage the airways.
What about dairy products?
First, you need to listen to your body. If you can tolerate raw milk, then you don’t need to avoid it.
However, if you feel bloated or suffer from heartburns after consuming dairy products, you might be better off avoiding these foods.
You see, there are two main breeds of cows, the A1 and the A2 breeds. The A1 cows experienced a mutation about 5000 years ago whereas the A2 cows are the older breeds.
The milk from A1 cows contain the beta-CM-7 protein which can stimulate mucus production in the respiratory tract. If you suffer from excessive phlegm, you might want to eliminate dairy from your diet for a month and see whether this improves your symptoms.
2. Butt out
No thanks to nicotine and carbon monoxide, each puff of a cigarette irritates and injures the bronchi while also causing inflammation. This chronic injury plus inflammation could be one reason why lung cells begin to mutate, leading to lung cancer.
Smoking also decreases airflow in and out of the lungs – this is why smokers may feel out of breath soon after doing some moderately strenuous exercise.
Moreover, smoking prevents the lungs from easily eliminating excess mucus and foreign debris. It can also destroy the lungs’ elastic fibers and cause emphysema.
3. Reduce your exposure to pollutants
By pollutants I don’t just mean car exhausts.
Did you know that fragrances such as air fresheners can cause a decline in lung health?
Studies indicate that home fragrance products often contain various chemicals (such as limonene, esters, alcohols, petroleum distillates, and formaldehyde) that can irritate the respiratory tract. These products can also trigger allergy symptoms and worsen asthma.
Besides air fresheners, home fragrance products include:
- Dryer sheets
- Scented candles
- Fragrance sprays
- Scented liquid soaps
Other sources of indoor air pollution include:
- Toxic mold
- Gases like radon
Note: To improve the quality of indoor air, besides ensuring adequate ventilation, you could keep indoor plants like ferns or bamboo palm.
Focus on building habits that enhance lung health.
1. Drink up!
Remember the mucus that lines the respiratory tract and whose job is to trap dust and bacteria? (If not, check out the ‘what do the lungs do?’ section above.)
Well, being properly hydrated supports optimal mucociliary function. Put simply, the body needs water to produce mucus.
Moreover, drinking enough water will also prevent the ‘air passage’ and mucus membranes from getting all dried up and more vulnerable to bacteria.
Important note: If the weather is cold, you want to make sure to drink enough water. You see, cold temperatures can increase viral infections while, at the same time, decreasing thirst mechanisms. And if you’re dehydrated, chances are your lung health will take the blow.
2. Stay active
Another (seemingly) boring tip. I know. But bear with me.
Have you ever noticed that, as you start running more regularly, you’re able to run longer without panting? Or daily tasks become easier to carry out?
Well, that’s because regular exercise helps improve lung function, and overall lung health by making it easier for the body to:
- Remove carbon dioxide from your blood
- Add oxygen to your blood
Moreover, breaking a sweat is a great and fun way to flush toxins out of your body. It also improves digestion and, hence, ensure optimal nutrient delivery to the lungs.
3. Get enough quality ZZZ’s
Research suggests that not sleeping enough, or sleeping late on a regular basis, can considerably weaken the immune system. This can make you more vulnerable to the common cold, influenza, and other infections that affect lung health.
4. Check your vitamin D status
Did you know that being vitamin D deficient increases the risks of viral respiratory tract infections? Or that low vitamin D levels have been linked to mycobacterial infections?
Not prone to infections? You still want to ensure that your vitamin D levels are optimal. Deficiencies of the sunshine vitamin can cause a considerable decline in lung health by altering lung structure.
Add in the good stuff – boost your lung health with the foods below.
1. Cruciferous veggies
Boy choy, kale, broccoli, cabbage, arugula, Brussel sprouts, collard greens, mustard greens, watercress, and kale are known as cruciferous vegetables.
Besides being naturally rich in antioxidants that can boost lung health, cruciferous veggies also contain indole-3-carbinol, a sulfur containing compound that can reduce the risks of lung cancer.
Rich in omega-3, cold-water fish like salmon help improve lung health by (i) reducing inflammation and (ii) preventing bacterial lung infections.
This anti-inflammatory property of omega-3 fatty acids is particularly important for individuals suffering from inflammatory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In COPD, airflow is reduced due to inflammation and excessive mucus in the lungs.
The conventional treatment for COPD usually involves taking anti-inflammatory drugs. Unfortunately, these drugs suppress the immune system, increasing the risk of infection, most commonly from the Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) bacteria. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish like salmon and sardines can help decrease NTHi infections.
In another study, omega-3 fatty acids increased lung function by 59% and reduced airway inflammation thus preventing narrowing of the airway after exercise. This, in turn, helped improve athletic performance among individuals with exercise-induced asthma.
[color-box]Get the most out of salmon: Shallow-fry or bake your fish. When you deep fry fish, the omega-3s they contain will leak into the oil. Also, do not throw away the dark, almost black meat – this is where most of the omega-3s are.[/color-box]
Bored with plain ‘ol baked salmon? Check out this list of 31 yummy salmon recipes.
3. Coconut oil
This oil has long been demonized because it contains saturated fats.
Yes, it is true that coconut oil is rich in saturated fats. But research shows that the body can use these fats to produce lung surfactant which consists of a mixture of protein and fats.
By helping decrease the surface tension within the lung’s alveoli, the lung surfactant facilitates the breathing process. It also prevents the alveoli from collapsing at the end of expiration.
Moreover, coconut oil contains lauric acid, a natural anti-bacterial compound that can protect the lungs against infections.
[color-box]Get the most out of coconut oil: Choose a virgin product that has not been deodorized. Deodorized coconut oil contains much less lauric acid.[/color-box]
With its distinctive ruby-red jewel-like seeds packed with antioxidants, the pomegranate can do wonders for lung health.
In one lab study, researchers induced lung cancer in mice and treated some of the animals with pomegranate. The mice which received the pomegranate extract exhibited a much lower tumor growth than the control mice.
Get the most out of pomegranates: Check out this article to discover clever ways of eating pomegranates as well as the impressive health benefits of these fruits.
Consuming about 33g of garlic twice a week could slash your risks of lung cancer by almost half, according to a large Chinese study.
What if you smoke? Well, eating garlic may still reduce your cancer risks by about 30%!
It turns out that the pungent bulb contains alliin which is converted to allicin when garlic is crushed or chopped. The allicin produced possesses potent antimicrobial and antioxidants properties and is what gives garlic its distinct aroma.
Can’t seem to tolerate garlic? You might want to consider a low-FODMAP diet.
[color-box]Get the most out of garlic: Allicin is very unstable and is highly volatile. As such, use crushed or chopped garlic cloves as soon as possible.[/color-box]
6. Orange and yellow fruits and veggies + leafy greens
Fruits and vegetables with a yellow-orange hue and leafy greens are loaded with various antioxidants such as alpha- and beta-carotenes, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, and vitamin C.
These antioxidants team up together to improve lung health and reduce the risks of lung cancer. It appears that the various nutrients and antioxidants in yellow-orange produce and green veggies can prevent growth of cancer cells.
[color-box] Get the most out of orange, yellow, and produce: Add some diced avocado to your bell pepper salad or eat your kale chips with some guacamole. The healthy fats in the avocado will facilitate the absorption of antioxidants.[/color-box]
Rich in vitamin E, the avocado could improve lung health by reducing the damage caused by air pollution.
Moreover, avocadoes contain glutathione, an antioxidant that can protect cells against free radical damage.
So, if vitamin E can boost lung health and vegetable oils are rich in vitamin E, wouldn’t it make sense to consume more vegetable oils? Short answer: No.
You see, vegetable oils contain gamma-tocopherol whereas avocados contain alpha-tocopherol. These are different forms of vitamin E and while alpha-tocopherol improves lung health, gamma-tocopherol can decrease lung function. Poor lung function will translate in more trouble breathing.
[color-box] Get the most out of avocados: Buy unripe avocados in bulk and keep them in the fridge. Refrigeration halts the ripening process. A day or two before using the avocados, transfer them to a paper back and keep on the counter. This should make them ripen faster.[/color-box]
8. Fermented foods
Did you know that improving your gut health could positively influence the health of your lungs?
In a study involving infants, researchers investigated the effects of introducing different foods in the babies’ diet on their gut flora. They found that dietary changes led to changes in bacterial communities in the babies’ digestive tract and lungs.
[color-box] Get the most out of fermented foods: Make your very own fermented foods – this guide will show you how.[/color-box]
Are there any herbal remedies that can enhance lung health?
Yes. But you want to get your doctor’s approval before trying any of the suggestions below.
1. Osha root
What makes this herb so special is that it possesses strong antiviral and anti-bacterial properties which can help kick respiratory infections to the curb.
Osha root can also improve blood flow to the lungs while easing chest stuffiness.
Moreover, osha root is also considered a bitter herb and can improve digestion. Bitter roots also facilitates absorption of dietary fats and fat-soluble vitamins.
Wondering what this has to do with lung health?
Well, if your digestion is good, your lungs will get all the nutrients it needs to stay strong and healthy.
[color-box] How to take: As a tea. Follow the directions in the video below.[/color-box]
In 16th-century England, this herb was highly prized by those suffering from bronchitis.
Since then, research has confirmed that thymol, a natural compound in thyme, can effectively treat acute and chronic bronchitis.
In fact, in one study, thyme supplements were given to participants for 11 days. They reported a 16 percent reduction in coughing fits compared to the placebo group.
[color-box] How to take: Add a whole bunch of thyme to 4 cups of boiling water. Simmer on very low heat for 10 minutes before removing from the heat. You can drink this infusion throughout the day. (I like to leave to the twigs in the water and only take them out just before drinking.)[/color-box]
This spice gets its impressive color from curcumin, a powerful antioxidant that can help tone down inflammation in the lungs (and throughout the body. Moreover, turmeric possesses potent anti-toxicity properties that facilitate the removal of dangerous toxins from the lungs and blood.
[color-box] How to take: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil before adding in 1 small piece of ginger and 2 teaspoons of turmeric. Simmer for 20 minutes before removing from the heat.
I like to leave the ginger and turmeric in the water and only strain one cup at a time just before drinking.) Before drinking, add a teaspoon of coconut oil and a pinch of black pepper to each cup before drinking warm or cold.[/color-box]
Making strong medicinal teas to boost lung health
The video below will help you make strong medicinal teas like a pro. Remember to get your doctor’s approval first.
How about supplements? Can they boost lung health?
Specific supplements can improve lung health provided that you’ve implemented the steps above. Remember that there are no magic pills.
If you choose to supplement, here are a few options:
1. Probiotics have been shown to help boost the immune system. Check out this article to discover the impressive health benefits of various probiotics. This article will make it easier for you to select the right product for you.
Note: If you suspect that you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, some probiotics might do more harm than good. So, make sure to work with a qualified practitioner when deciding which type of probiotic would suit you best.
2. Fish oil can help reduce inflammation. You want to select a pure omega-3 product that has at least 400mg of EPA and 300mg of DHA per softgel.
3. Zinc can help strengthen the immune system and keep inflammation in check. Zinc picolinate has a good absorption rate but you can also take zinc citrate. About 30mg daily will do. Be careful not to overdo zinc as the symptoms can be quite unpleasant.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. Are there any strategies you use to protect and improve your lung health naturally?