Breathing easily is something that most people take for granted. We usually inhale and exhale without even thinking about it, but the moment you can’t get enough air, like during an asthma attack, it becomes very clear just how importing breathing is. So, why do we need to breathe?
We use energy in order to do literally everything: sit, stand, think, blink… everything! Energy doesn’t just come directly from food, it needs to be converted in the body to a usable format, called ATP. The process by which we convert food to energy is called cellular respiration, and it requires oxygen from the air we breathe. There are two by-products of making ATP: water, which we use in the body, and carbon dioxide, which we exhale through the lungs. Without this exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs, we couldn’t convert food to energy.
We are constantly breathing in pollution, viruses, and toxins, so the body has a natural defense system to help clean and repair the lungs and fight potential infections. The lungs are lined with mucous that traps foreign particles. We have cilia (tiny finger-like projections) that move mucous upward so that we can expel it from the body. Think of it like a mucous escalator that’s constantly working to keep the lungs clean.
We also have antioxidants and detoxifying mediators in the lungs to prevent and heal damage caused by inhaling pollution and toxins, and special immune cells in the lungs to prevent us from getting sick.
When we have high exposures to toxins, smoke, or other particles, the lungs’ natural defense systems have difficulty keeping up, and it impacts our ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Reduced lung function makes us feel tired because our body can’t make enough energy. We also may have symptoms of coughing, frequent lung infections, asthma attacks, or excessive mucous production. Lung function is significantly reduced in conditions like COPD, asthma, and in smokers.
Dr. Hilary’s Lifestyle Tips To Improve Lung Health
Limit carbohydrates, especially refined sugars: When we metabolize carbs for energy, we produce carbon dioxide. We produce less carbon dioxide from metabolizing proteins and fats, so it’s easier on our breathing.
Smoking and vaping cessation: Lung function, capacity, coughing and shortness of breath all improve within the first month of smoking cessation. After six to nine months of being smoke-free, the cilia in the lungs have healed and the frequency of lung infections improves.
Maintain a healthy weight: Gradual weight loss of 1-3 lbs per week is ideal for sustainable results. This should be done through eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods, including lean meats and fish, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Optimize Vitamin D levels: Having adequate levels of vitamin D is important to for a healthy immune system and lung function. Requesting blood work is the only way to know your vitamin D status, and for your doctor to decide on appropriate vitamin D supplementation dosing. Having adequate vitamin D can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water helps to thin mucous in the lungs and improve breathing. Aim for at least 2 litres of water daily, and more if you’re active or in warm weather.
Improve air quality: Use a HEPA air purifier to improve air quality at home, vacuum and wet mop regularly to limit dust build up and minimize your use of scented products.
Lung health is a vital part of our overall health. The lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, allowing our bodies to convert food to energy. As we breathe in air, we also breathe in toxins and pollutants, so healthy lungs are continually self-cleaning to allow for optimal oxygen exchange. In some people, including those with asthma, COPD, and in smokers, the self-cleaning mechanism is sub-optimal.
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