Foods for healthy lungs: What do the lungs need?


To keep your body ticking, you need a heart. To increase oxygen in the blood, which is critical for almost all the essential functions, you need a lung. Even a slight oxygen deprivation can disrupt the balance, causing respiratory illnesses like asthma. Furthermore, bacterial or viral infections can increase the mucus and block the air passages, leading to breathing difficulty and stressing the lungs. Further complications can lead to diseases like
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and tuberculosis. Hence, it is essential to maintain optimal lung functioning. The best way is to include foods for healthy lungs in your diet regime.

What do you need to keep your lungs healthy?

1. Potassium

Thick vessels in your lungs make blood flow difficult, increasing the blood pressure, which leads to pulmonary hypertension. Besides, more fluid translates to high blood pressure. Salt retains the fluids increasing the fluid volume and BP. Potassium is the best mineral that can contradict the effects of high salt concentration.

Primarily, kidneys work to decrease fluid concentration, thereby reducing pressure. More sodium from salt wrecks this balance and makes it difficult for the kidneys to remove water. Increasing the potassium in the system restores the balance, leading to decreased hypertension and healthy lungs.

Sources: Banana, orange, cooked spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, cucumber, and green leafy vegetables.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is among the best foods for healthy lungs. It expands the airways allowing smooth airflow. Magnesium-deficiency also results in low lung volume and capacity. Moreover, it is vital for maintaining electrical balance across the cell membrane. 

It also relaxes the smooth muscle of the lungs by decreasing the acetylcholine release via the neuromuscular junction. The nicotinic acetylcholine receptors bind to the free acetylcholine leading to depolarization and subsequent muscle contraction. Hence, low cholinergic neuromuscular transmission can keep the lung healthy. Besides, it regulates the neuromuscular excitability– alterations in prolonged levels manifests cramps and Isaac’s syndrome.

Sources: Most of the magnesium sources are rich in potassium as well. For example, spinach, legume, green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fruits containing dietary fiber.

3. Omega-3 fatty acids and complex carbs

Oxygen and nutrients are the raw materials for metabolism. Carbon-dioxide and energy are major products. The primary function of the lung is to excrete carbon-dioxide waste. More is the CO2 level; more is the stress on the lungs. Carbohydrates produce more CO2 for the oxygen used. Besides, complex carbohydrates or fats produce the least CO2, thereby decreasing the pressure on the lungs. Omega 3 fatty acids are the best choice. Also, choose unsaturated fats that do not contain cholesterol.

However, make sure you include proteins in your diet for the energy to tackle pulmonary infections. A study observed high energy intake and protein need in patients of COPD and other lung infections and cancer. 

Sources: Fruits rich in fibers, whole grains, and peas.

4. Vitamin D and calcium

The regular medication dose for lung infections, especially COPD, includes steroids. Steroids increase the need for calcium, and hence it would be an excellent choice to include calcium if you are on medications for a lung infection. Moreover, vitamin D increases calcium absorption, alongside its activity in immune responses. 

The first line of defense to stop the pathogen entry into the lungs is the airway epithelium and alveolar macrophages. When it recognizes a pathogen, it releases antimicrobials and cytokines. The macrophages undergo phagocytosis and degrade pathogens. This process leads to the combined effect of innate and adaptive immunity. Later, the immune system responds by enhancing the activity of T and B-cells, which successfully clear out the infection. 

Vitamin D plays a vital role in these immune responses, thereby increasing lung immunity.

Sources: Fatty fish, dairy products like soy milk and cheese, cereals, and egg yolk.

5. Antioxidants

Lungs usually deal with high levels of oxygen. Typically, the system maintains the balance between oxidants and antioxidants (the agents that reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals). But under exogenous sources of smoke and pollutants, the oxidants may settle on the lung cells. These unstable radicals (ROS- reactive oxygen species) can initiate unnecessary oxidations causing cancer, cell necrosis, aging of cells, apoptosis, etc. 

For example, when the artery wall undergoes oxidation by losing an electron, it becomes unstable and breaks. Hence, antioxidants play a primary role in maintaining healthy lungs. However, make sure you don’t consume more than the recommended level because it can give negative results– explained by the theory of the “oxidation paradox.”

Sources: Green tea, mint tea, berries, and leafy vegetables.

6. Anti-inflammatory agents

Abnormal inflammatory responses in the lung cells increase the damage worsening the condition, especially in cystic fibrosis. Therefore, it is logical to fight-off lung infections with anti-inflammatory drugs. Common medications for severe lung infections like COPD include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs also have many side-effects. Instead of entirely relying on NSAIDs, try including anti-inflammatory food sources in your diet regime.

Sources: Ginger, garlic, and turmeric. Most foods rich in vitamin D are also rich in anti-inflammatory agents.

What other foods can you include in your diet for healthy lungs?

Turmeric: Turmeric consists of the anti-inflammatory agent curcumin. It reduces toxicity and inhibits the over-regulation of anti-inflammatory response. It is also a potent antioxidant. The most common symptom of lung infection is congestion in the air pathways due to mucus. Turmeric breaks down the mucus in the airways, and relieves cough and improves breathing.

Egg: Egg is rich in proteins and helps in maintaining the lung muscles that are vital for breathing. It is also an excellent anti-inflammatory source. Try starting your day with a boiled egg.

Honey: Honey has antibacterial properties. It helps in relieving the discomfort in the throat and works as a treatment for cough and cold, caused due to upper respiratory infections. It can also promote sleep, which is usually difficult with a cough.

How does garlic help in keeping your lungs healthy?

Garlic has many health benefits, though it has a strong, pungent smell. It was previously used to treat cold and flu, but new research suggests that it plays a role in warding-off lung infections, especially life-threatening cystic fibrosis. The disease primarily blocks the lungs’ airways. It also results in the production of thick mucus, increasing stress on the lungs. Mint tea and ginger also work by breaking down the phlegm to relieve a sore throat.

Allicin is an antimicrobial agent present in the bulbs of garlic to ward-off plant pathogens in soil and water. But in humans, it can kill bacteria that severely infect the lungs, by chemically modifying the enzymes. You can extract allicin by crushing raw garlic. You can also consume it along with the ongoing medications. Moreover, garlic and ginger can act as an anti-inflammatory agent and can undergo considerable antioxidation. It also reduces toxicity and carcinogens. 

The takeaway

Include these minerals and vitamin foods in your diet for healthy lungs. However, make sure you drink enough water for optimal lung health. It helps clear mucus and inflammatory build-up. Even mild dehydration can stress your lungs. Also, make sure you don’t include foods that cause acid reflux that worsens lung condition. Hence, avoid alcoholic, acidic, and carbonated drinks in your diet (especially for severe lung complications).

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