The preservation and protection of the lungs have become one of personal significance. Witnessing the suffering of a child through adulthood from severe asthma attacks and hospitalizations is heartbreaking. Yet, today due to the possibility of the devastating effects COVID-19 has on the lungs is even more disturbing.
Respiratory disease is more widespread than I thought in America. Statistics reports 26 million people to have asthma for which there is not a cure. Another devastating disease of the lungs is COPD, the 4th leading cause of death in the United States. Data from the American Cancer Society reports lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, making up 25% of all cancer deaths. Amazingly, each year, more people die of lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Yes, these are our Unsung Lungs.
The major contributing factors of lung degeneration is age and the impact of oxidation. In review, the by-products of oxidation are “free radicals” unstable molecules that can damage the body’s cells. The release of these substances is part of the body’s natural metabolic activity. However, a balance between free radicals and antioxidants is crucial for proper physiologic function. In a situation when free radicals overpower the body’s ability to regulate them, a condition known as oxidative stress results. Free radicals thus adversely are the cause of many of our diseases including, lung disease. Additionally, air pollution, smoking, respiratory infections, lack of exercise, and unhealthy eating habits all accelerate the degenerative process. Evidence-based studies show that effective lifestyle modifications such as not smoking, being more active, and consuming a healthy diet preserve lung health.
The way diet plays a part in the prevention of lung degeneration is its ability to reduce the number of free radicals or oxidative stress within the body. Working with the American Cancer Society, I am a strong advocate of the evidence-based studies of the positive effects of phytochemicals. The Mediterranean Diet heavily consist of antioxidants and power pack phytochemicals. In relationship to lung health, there is a specific group of phytochemicals found in foods known as “ Anthocyanin.” Anthocyanin is a powerful antioxidant with the ability to control free radicals, thus preventing oxidative stress on the lungs. Anthocyanin also repairs tissue damage and improves immune response. Anthocyanin is in leafy green vegetables, whole grains, fruits with red, purple, or blue pigments: such as blueberries, blackberries plums, purple or red grapes, strawberries, cherries, cranberries, raspberry. As I advise my patients, Nature made the most beautiful fruits and vegetables the healthiest for our bodies. Always choose foods with the most brilliant colors. They are powerful.
In addition to the colorful fruits and vegetables added to the diet, foods high in fiber also improve the lungs’ health. Researchers set out to examine if there is an association between dietary fiber intake and the degree of lung function. The study participants consisted of two groups of adults, one following a high fiber diet and a low fiber diet. Study results show within the high fiber group lung function was better than the low fiber group. Thus, following a high fiber diet can be beneficial to the health and preservation of the lungs. The recommended daily intake for fiber is 25 to 30 grams, and it may be noteworthy to meet this amount regularly.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of preserving the health of our lungs. Those of you who have asthma, COPD, emphysema, lung cancer, or any of the many devasting diseases of the lung understand this concept much too well. I employ those who smoke to please stop and ask each of you to evaluate your eating practices and adapt to the Mediterranean style of eating gradually. We must all do our parts to extend our lungs’ life and functionality, for it is possible only through them that we all able to inhale the essential air, the breath of life.