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The Importance of Good Nutrition for Chronic Lung Condition Patients

For patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other chronic lung conditions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key for managing their condition and improving symptoms. Moderate exercise, for instance, can improve circulation and help the body to better use oxygen. It is also important to follow a healthy diet that meets core nutritional requirements and limits exposure to foods that may cause inflammation.

“Nutrition plays a pivotal role in patients with COPD; this is because weight is an important factor in how the lungs function,” said Dr. Lubna Javed,  a family practitioner with HealthCare Partners Nevada, a network of more than 200 primary care physicians and 1,300 specialists. “If a person is overweight, their lungs may have to work harder because extra weight demands more oxygen. On the other hand, being underweight may make patients tired and cause exacerbation of dyspnea.”

Poor nutrition can also lead to malnutrition and weight loss, which can result in a poor prognosis, including increased susceptibility to infection, reduced quality of life and even death.

“For most people, breathing is effortless. However, in patients with COPD, there is a conscious and continuous effort to breathe,” said Dr. Javed. “This can increase the resting energy expenditure by up to 15 percent, and if there is no compensation for increased energy needs, weight loss and cachexia will set in.”

Maintaining a healthy body weight and supporting the inefficient and overworked respiratory muscles with proper nutrition can improve symptoms and reduce the risk of infection.

Dietary Needs of Chronic Lung Patients

Because maintaining a healthy body weight is so important in managing the symptoms of chronic lung conditions, chronic lung patients must ensure that their eating habits are meeting their body’s nutritional requirements.

“It is extremely important for patients with COPD to maintain a balanced diet,” said Dr. Javed. “A lack of calories for example could lead to the breakdown of fat and muscle in the body which increases shortness of breath, decreases appetite and leads to impaired absorption of nutrition, weight loss and loss of muscle strength.”

She notes that COPD patients may benefit from a high-fat and low-calorie diet, as this will give them the calories they need to maintain a healthy body weight. However, caution is advised for patients with obesity and cardiovascular problems.

Dietary Restrictions and Recommendations

Also important to managing a chronic lung condition is avoiding foods that may cause inflammation or trouble breathing and embracing those that strengthen the body and boost the immune system.

“Inflammation is like a fire in the body,” said Alina Zhukovskaya, AADP, CHHP, NDS, a health coach, raw food chef and detox specialist who recently spoke about the importance of nutrition for lung-affected Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1) patients at the 22nd Annual Alpa-1 National Education Conference. “The body needs to fight it, but if there is not enough energy it cannot do this. When you eat something that causes inflammation, your body has to tend to the inflammation and will have less energy to work on the lungs.”

To that end, Zhukovskaya recommends that patients focus on including more fruits and vegetables into their diet, as these will provide the body with the nutrients it needs to help fight infection and inflammation. Fruits and vegetables also take the least amount of energy to digest and give the body the most energy to function.

Included in this diet should be dark, leafy greens such as kale and collard greens and foods rich in vitamin A or C such as sweet potatoes, mangoes, bell peppers and oranges.

“You want to get the most nutrition out of the least volume of food, and fruits and veggies are key to doing this,” said Zhukovskaya. “Juicing is also great because you get all of the vitamins and minerals in liquid form, so the body can absorb these nutrients more quickly.”

By juicing just once a day, and incorporating more life-giving foods such as fruits and vegetables into their diet, COPD and other lung condition patients will see improvements in their breathing. 

“One thing that I tell chronic lung patients is to avoid drinking soda,” said Zhukovskaya.  “Soda is essentially carbonated water and as a result it is full of carbon, or the waste of our breathing process. When people drink carbonated beverages, they put a lot of waste back into their body. For COPD patients who already have trouble breathing, this can negatively impact their ability to breathe.”

In addition, soda is full of sugar and sugar substitutes, which have been found to cause inflammation, as do processed proteins such as hamburger meat.

“I have talked to people who have implemented these dietary improvements and they have seen huge improvements in their breathing,” said Zhukovskaya. “The key is learning what is bad and what is good and learning how to incorporate these changes into your daily life.”

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