7 Tips for Lung Health – How can I make my lungs strong?
Can you believe it was only 40 years ago when people were smoking like it was about to go out of style? I was watching this Flintstones commercial from the 60’s or 70’s. Not only were Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble lighting up like it was nothing, but they were also promoting Marlboro!
If this commercial was on today, Cartoon Network studios might be on fire right now. They would have been taken off the TV faster than Janet Jackson during her super bowl halftime performance.
Luckily as a society, we started to figure out that a lot of lung cancers and other respiratory/cardiovascular problems came from smoking. Looking back upon it you wonder if we did not know or remained blissfully happy to smoke wherever we wanted.
As a physician it pains me to see people suffer from chronic lung disease because of how debilitating it can be. If you have a joint problem that is one thing, but if you have trouble breathing you cannot walk with your wife up a scenic hill or go swimming with your kids on vacation.
I am going to explain what chronic lung disease is and share some tips on how to combat it.
What Causes Chronic Lung Disease?
Our lungs are very sensitive to what we breathe in. If we are breathing in irritants like smoke, coal dust, or smog it causes inflammation in our lung. Inflammation is characterized by 5 traits.
- Redness- dilated blood vessels
- Warmth- increased blood flow
- Pain- caused by many of the substances released (most notably histamine, bradykinin, and substance P)
- Swelling- hypersensitive cells being activated
- Loss of Function- because of any of the reasons above
Inflammation in our lungs is one of the worst places for it to happen. It is where we oxygenate our blood from the heart!
If this delicate system is disrupted by inflammation there will be problems, if it happens chronically, then problems one cannot recover from. Inside the bronchioles of the lung is where the blood from the heart is mixed with the oxygen we breathe.
If that thin lining in the bronchioles is swollen and disrupted, there will be less oxygen going to organs like our brain, kidneys, and skin. Too much of that damage will cause permanent scarring of the lungs that could either require a transplant or permanent oxygen.
Asthma is where the lungs are hypersensitive to a particular allergen or irritant. So this would be dog hair, hay, or smoke. Once even a little of that substance meets the lungs, the inflammation starts.
Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, trouble breathing, and chest pain.
COPD is a permanent version of asthma. The lungs have gone through so much inflammation that the lungs are forever scarred and dilated. There is no way to reverse this once it happens. If you ever see someone carrying around an oxygen tank, chances are they have COPD and need it to breathe properly.
Symptoms are the same as asthma. Unlike asthma which can be reversed with an inhaler, COPD cannot.
The Impact of Lung Disease
Although we have gotten better as a society with smoking and air pollution, it has left an impact upon generations both financially and health wise
Luckily air pollution is improving, partly because cars are more efficient than ever before. Smoking is an expensive habit with the average smoker spending over $2,500 per year on cigarettes.
In the workplace, it is estimated that millions of dollars per year are lost in productivity for those missing time from work due to hospitalizations or being put on disability.
The health impact is even more severe. According to healthypeople.gov are almost 15 million people diagnosed with COPD and about 12 million that have it but have not been diagnosed. It is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States. Almost as many people die from COPD (142,000) as from lung cancer (155,550).
For the smoker, health implications go from minor (less exercise tolerance, loss of taste/smell) to major (increased risk for lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke). Second hand smoke has also been attributed to the development of asthma especially in children.
There are over 25 million people with asthma (most being children). Besides air quality other factors for asthma are a history of respiratory infections, being overweight, family history of asthma, and living in poverty.
7 Tips for Healthier Lungs
1. Stop Smoking
You know this has to be on the top of the list. Just like trying to date the ex-wife of a good friend, it is never a good idea. Smoking is going to kill you sooner, end of story.
Chronically smoking will narrow the blood vessels in your lungs and damage them to the point of no return.
While not all lung cancers are caused by smoking, there is a huge correlation between smoking and developing lung cancer.
I could go on for days about all the negative consequences of smoking so I will just name a few.
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Increased risk for lung cancer
- Diminished sense of taste and smell
- Damages skin
- Increases you blood pressure
Since chronic lung disease is caused by inflammation, it can help to avoid pro-inflammatory foods.
Foods that are high in saturated fats and refined sugars cause the most inflammation.
On the other side, anti-inflammatory foods like ginger, turmeric, and omega-3 oils like in fish and nuts have been shown to reduce markers of inflammation like C - reactive protein and tumor necrosis factor.
If you want to view some of my healthy recipes, check out my blog healthdy.com! I have recipes that use nutritious foods that will make you put down the Pringles and Twinkies for good.
Lung function can be improved by exercise. The more in shape we get, the more air our lungs can take in during tidal breathing.
Those with COPD or asthma should consult with their doctor before beginning any exercise regimen. Physical activity can induce an asthma or COPD attack.
4. Avoid Smoke or Allergens
Just as important it is to avoid smoking, it is also as important to avoid second hand smoke. People can say that it is not as bad, but it is.
Smoke, animal dander, and pollen can remain on the clothes of the person thus causing the inflammation reaction.
This can also be troublesome if you live in a large metropolitan area living next to busy highways or large industrial factories. That is why those who live in poverty or low income areas of large cities have higher incidences of asthma.
5. Avoid Infections like Influenza & Colds
There is nothing worse than that guy/gal that comes into work sharing their mucus with everyone. While their determination to come to work is admirable, they are putting everyone at risk.
The flu and cold are spread via respiratory droplets. Combined with the fact there are a lot of people working close to one another, this is a recipe for disaster.
Any pandemic or epidemic usually spreads via this route.
When flu/cold season comes you must practice good hygiene habits like:
- Washing your hands with soap and water
- Not touching the things of someone who you know is sick
- Avoid being in schools, daycares or anywhere there a lot of kids (children are germ factories!)
- Stay home from work if you know you are sick
- Get your yearly flu shot ( if anyone tells you it causes autusim or whatever, have them see me)
6. See a Doctor Regularly
Your doctor will be happy to tell you if you have a simple upper viral respiratory infection (do not ask for antibiotics) or pneumonia (yes on the antibiotics).
They can also give you any vaccinations that will prevent you from getting the yearly strain of flu.
If you are a smoker, it is incredibly important to visit your friendly physician to keep track of your health. No cancer will be developing if we can help it!
7. Stay Hydrated
The less fluid you have in your body, the less blood goes to your lungs, and your lungs and heart will have to work harder to keep the rest of your organs oxygenated.
I can only imagine how scary the feeling of not being able to breath is. To be drowning without any water to choke on. If you are one of those people with asthma or a smoker, there are easy steps you can take today to help yourself in the future with your chronic lung disease.
If you are a smoker, stop smoking before you end up on an oxygen tank for the rest of your life. Think about the people in your life that will be affected by your decision.
If you have asthma, please avoid your friends or family who smoke. Make sure you are careful of your environment to avoid any additional triggers.
Please let me know what you think of my tips!