Take a deep breath: Lung disease is a top killer in this country, yet it gets little attention compared to cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia or any of the other chronic diseases threatening health today.
In fact, experts estimate that lung disease kills more people than any other disease worldwide! Reports show most people are unaware of the risks even as cases are expected to rise over the next decades.
Most lung problems are due to smoking, pollution and respiratory infections — in other words, manageable factors. In traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs relate to the fall season — so this is an ideal time to look at ways we can support this critical area of health.
Research shows numerous links between respiratory illnesses and other diseases such as dementia, heart failure, digestive conditions, autoimmune disease, neurological conditions and obesity. And there are many different kinds of lung conditions that are typically classified into three main categories:
- Airway disease: Includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, where airways become narrow or blocked.
- Lung tissue disease: Includes pulmonary fibrosis where the structure and function of lung tissue is progressively damaged from inflammation and scarring.
- Circulation disease: Affects the respiratory system. Includes vascular scarring, blood clots and other circulatory blockages which impair blood flow to the lungs.
The most common types of lung conditions are pulmonary edema (excessive fluid accumulation in the lungs), lung cancer, pneumonia, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis and asthma. So far, conventional treatments for these conditions are limited.
While the root causes of lung diseases are complex and diverse, what they all have in common is chronic inflammation, free radical damage and reduced oxygenation. In turn, these conditions further a destructive cycle of free radical damage, toxin build up and inflammation throughout the body. Our lungs are more than a system to bring in oxygen to feed every cell in the body; they are also critical detoxification organs. They release stored toxins and metabolic byproducts along with carbon dioxide. In the face of a global rise in the incidence of lung disease exacerbated by worsening air pollution, now is a critical time to pay heed to these most valuable, life-giving organs.
Like so many other chronic conditions, many lung conditions show positive responses to high antioxidant intake and foods rich in certain phytonutrients.
Research shows that the mushroom Cordyceps significantly addresses airway inflammation and supports respiratory immunity. It offers important clinical support for asthma and inflammatory lung disease.
Vitamin D3 is a critical supplement for lung and respiratory health: It enhances immunity, reduces inflammation and supports lung function. Research shows it has potential to control the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as asthma.
Probiotics are another interesting supplement with an important role in lung health. Researchers have found that because of their immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory benefits, probiotic bacteria support respiratory function and may prevent lung deterioration in patients with cystic fibrosis. They’re also beneficial for people with asthma and other lung diseases. This is an interesting correlation: Probiotics mainly colonize in the digestive tract, and, according to traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs and intestines are closely interconnected.
Vitamins A, C and E have also been shown in several studies to offer some lung protection in clinical trials. Likewise, antioxidant rich foods and beverages, such as apples, red wine and green tea, can reduce inflammation and support respiratory function. A supplement combining fruit and vegetable concentrates (made from berries, cruciferous and leafy vegetables) with fish oil and probiotics has been shown in clinical research to significantly improve lung function in children with asthma after four months of treatment.
Honokiol, the primary active compound derived from magnolia tree bark, is another herbal ingredient shown in several preclinical studies to significantly protect lung function (in part by reducing inflammation). In my clinic, we’ve used honokiol with success in combination with other integrative treatments for lung cellular health issues.
Modified Citrus Pectin is also an important supplement. It’s been proven in preclinical research to inhibit inflammation and fibrosis by blocking galectin-3, a rogue protein. Chronic inflammation and fibrosis (excessive scar tissue buildup) are characteristic of a number of life-threatening diseases that relate to the lungs, including cardiovascular disease, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary fibrosis. Modified citrus pectin also actively fights cancer and significantly boosts immunity while safely chelating heavy metals and toxins. This last point is important: Regular detoxification supports lung health.
A Tibetan herbal formula has been extensively researched for its ability to reduce inflammation and enhance immunity. It’s been shown in clinical studies to support lung health and reduce respiratory infections, including in children.
Diet And Lifestyle
If you have a lung condition such as asthma, regular exercise can be difficult. But it’s still important to do what you can. You should perform physical activity to get your circulation flowing every day.
I recommend you make an effort to increase your exercise capacity daily. Low impact exercises like yoga and tai chi give you a good workout, increase oxygen capacity and reduce inflammation. They don’t cause wear and tear on your body as many other forms of exercise can. They are calming yet energizing and help to boost lung capacity and reduce inflammation. That’s why they are ideal for people with existing respiratory problems.
Practicing deep breathing can help strengthen the lungs. Unfortunately, breathing deeply and filling the lower diaphragm first, before filling the upper lungs, in order to take a full breath, is something many of us have forgotten how to do. Just take a few minutes to try it and see how calmed and energized you feel.
The lungs are one of our most vital organ systems — we can’t survive for more than a few minutes without breathing — but our efforts to care for them seem to take a backseat to other health issues. This is a grave oversight. All systems in our bodies are interconnected and breathing gives life to each and every cell throughout the body.
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