Have you ever noticed that athletes struggle to perform at the same level as they approach middle age? There’s one simple reason. Their lung function begins to decline. Our lungs begin to decline in our mid-30s. But most of us don’t realize it. Our first realization of declining lung function usually comes in our 40s. And most people suffer significant diminished lung function after the age of 60.
Lung function actually begins to decline long before you notice any shortness of breath or heavier breathing after exercise. Some people notice it in the declining sharpness of their memory. That’s because less oxygen to your brain causes your brain to function slower and less effectively.
In addition to seeing your memory fade, many people notice it in their muscles and joints. They become stiff and tire faster. Their muscles also begin to lose strength. For some this is due to a lack of use. But athletes continue to use their muscles, but they still wear out. A lack of oxygen is one of the reasons. If your lungs don’t pump enough oxygen into your body, you don’t notice it first in your lungs. You notice it in other parts of your body.
While this is considered a normal part of aging, it is possible to slow the progression of lung degeneration. A new study out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland found that anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid, can help keep lung function optimal for much longer.
Flavonoids, as you may know, are plant chemicals that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Your body uses these chemicals in many ways to protect, repair, and build tissue. And your lungs appear to use them to reduce mucus and inflammatory secretions.
Unfortunately, the amount of research into flavonoids and lung function is pretty slim. So these researchers “wanted to investigate whether dietary intake and anthocyanins are associated with lung function decline in middle-age adults.”
So they analyzed data from 463 adults (average age: 44) who participated in the second and third European Community Respiratory Health Surveys from 2002 to 2012. These participants completed a dietary questionnaire and underwent spirometry when they first enrolled and after the study. Spirometry is a common lung function test. It evaluates the amount of air that a person can forcefully exhale in one second (FEV1), the total amount of air a person can exhale after taking a deep breath (FVC), and the ratio of the two (FEV1/FVC).
The researchers found that individuals in the highest, compared to the lowest, quartile of anthocyanin intake had a slower rate of decline in all three measurements. What’s more, if you’ve ever smoked, the flavonoids are even more important. The researchers found that among non-smokers and smokers who had quit, the flavonoids helped those who had quit smoking even more than the non-smokers. But they weren’t able to help those who still smoked.
How to Reduce Inflammation in the Lungs
With lung problems becoming more and more widespread, we have to look at ways to stop the progression. That starts by reducing inflammation throughout your body. Chronic inflammation is at the heart of many lung illnesses. This inflammation makes breathing difficult. But now there’s solid evidence that one of my favorite supplements can greatly enhance your lung function. It reduced the inflammation that marks many lung diseases and repaired much of the damage.
In a small study of adults with chronic lung disease, researchers in Japan found that supplements of omega-3 fatty acids appeared to improve patients’ breathing difficulties. This most likely happened because of the omega-3’s well-known ability to reduce inflammation. In the lungs, these healthy fats reduce the airway inflammation seen in lung diseases.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are found largely in oily fish, and to a lesser extent in flaxseed. Research has suggested that these fats, especially the fats in fish oils, help to lower the risk of heart problems and other ailments, partly due to their anti-inflammatory effects.
Since airway inflammation is a major feature in lung illnesses, the Japanese group speculated that omega-3 supplements might improve patients’ symptoms.
To test their theory, they had half of the 64 patients drink a liquid supplement rich in omega-3 fats each day. The other half drank a supplement containing omega-6 fats, the dominant polyunsaturated fat found in foods, including vegetable oils and meat.
After two years, the people in the omega-3 supplement group showed an overall improvement on tests that measured their breathing during a short exercise routine. The researchers also saw levels of certain inflammatory proteins in their blood and mucus drop, suggesting that the improvements in lung capacity came from the anti-inflammatory effects of the fatty acids. This is in line with the understanding that the omega-3s enhance the levels of inflammatory fighting compounds in the body (the omega-6s – except for GLA – promote inflammation).
The study authors concluded with a recommendation to supplement the diets of those with chronic lung diseases with omega-3 fatty acids.
I’d like to add that it’s important that you eat a healthy diet. Significant weight gain is a common complication of lung function issues and patients need more than just omega-3 fatty acids. They also need a nourishing diet that provides adequate protein and five to nine servings daily of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Breathe Easier With Vitamin D
Finally, there’s another nutrient you have to take for your lungs. Researchers from New Zealand found that vitamin D also has a strong impact on lung health. They found that higher levels of vitamin D are associated with better lung function.
The study included 14,091 people who were divided into five groups according to their vitamin D measurements. They were then tested for lung capacity. Those participants in the group with the highest vitamin D levels had 106 to 142 milliliters greater lung capacity than those in the group with low levels of vitamin D. That’s a big difference in how much air your lungs can hold!
If both omega-3 fatty acids (one to three grams daily) and vitamin D (2,000 IU daily) are taken together, they can significantly improve your lung function. They can even help you avoid the nasty lung congestion we see so often in the winter months.
More Nutrients Your Lungs Love
In addition to fish oil, vitamin D, and flavonoids, your lungs also love N-acetylcysteine (NAC). This nutrient has proven to help reduce inflammation in the lungs and the oxidative stress that causes it. NAC also helps loosen secretions and is a good antioxidant. For the last several decades, NAC has been used as a mucolytic (mucus dissolving) agent to help break apart the bonds of the thick mucus in the lungs of those suffering from chronic respiratory ailments. Regular use of NAC may diminish the number of severe breathing attacks. Smokers may also benefit from NAC supplementation. Studies on large groups of people have found that NAC appears to protect lung cells from developing abnormal growth issues, which can turn into tumors. Take one to two grams daily of NAC daily.
It is also very important that you take magnesium. One study showed that almost half of all people with lung issues had a magnesium deficiency. In the same trial, magnesium deficiency was also linked to increased hospital stays. Magnesium glycinate (200 mg, three times a day) can be very effective because magnesium relaxes smooth muscle and, thus, helps to decrease bronchospasms.
Finally, take a good dose of vitamin A. The vitamin is useful for supporting the healthy maintenance of mucous membranes. During a time of acute infection, take 100,000 IU daily for three to five days. Then taper the dose to 25,000 IU for another month. Please note that I’m referring to vitamin A (retinol) and not beta carotene. There’s no danger in taking this amount, especially for such a short period of time. And it does wonders for fighting infection and protecting your lungs.
We can’t stop our lungs from degenerating with age, but we can slow down the loss of function. This helps us keep oxygen pumping through our body and boosts every organ’s function. In fact, protecting your lungs is one of the absolute best steps you can take in maintaining good health for longer. And the best way to do that is to eat plenty of fruits and veggies every day. And to take nutrients, such as those in Advanced Lung Support, that are designed to protect your lungs. Not only will you be able to breathe better, but you’ll also notice the rest of your body functions better as well.