lung health deep dive
This week, we prepare to celebrate the Great American Smokeout, an annual intervention event hosted by the American Cancer Society. The Great American Smokeout is an event encouraging American smokers to quit or make plans to quit smoking.
For many, the correlation of smoking and the development of lung cancer is a well-known fact, yet, according to the American Cancer Society, over 32 million American adults still smoke. The ACS has many comprehensive resource guides to learn more about smoking, tobacco, and lung health. In support of their efforts, this article will dive into other ways to protect your lung health, so that we may see less lung disease in our patients and their families.
Recognize and Remove Indoor Pollutants
There are a variety of indoor pollutants that can cause lung issues. While tobacco and secondhand smoke are some of the most dangerous, other pollutants like radon, biological air pollutants, and volatile organic compounds.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that has been linked to lung cancer. Radon is a colorless gas that forms when radioactive materials break down in soil, rocks, and groundwater. Those that come into contact with radon or living/working in buildings/homes with radon entering through natural air flow. Because radon occurs naturally and is initially symptomless, it can be difficult to know whether or not your home or workplace has a radon problem.
In order to avoid years of radon exposure, the CDC recommends all homeowners acquire a radon test kit and mitigation professional to test their home for radon.
Biological Air Pollutants
The natural build-up of biological materials in indoor spaces can have negative effects on lung health. Dust, mold, and dander can choke a building’s air flow with air that is difficult for even healthy lungs to breath easily. Though we ingest small amounts of these pollutants every day, excessive ingestion of these biological pollutants can damage and weaken lungs, putting them at risk for lung disease. Mold, especially, can be dangerous, as certain kinds of mold can produce mycotoxins, which can cause direct lung damage.
In order to prevent these pollutants from building up in your home, the EPA recommends simple strategies like regularly cleaning the home, regularly cleaning carpets, regular replacement of air filters, and proper ventilation through the home.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds are gases created by certain solids and liquids. Paints, varnishes, aerosol sprays, pesticides, cleaning products, and hobby supplies are all sources of VOCs. The invisible gases emitted by these compounds can be dangerous in outdoor spaces and deadly in enclosed or indoor spaces.
Exposure to VOCs can cause drastic damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Certain levels of immediate exposure can sometimes lead to death, while lower levels of continued exposure can cause irreversible damage to the body’s organs.
Due to the variety of possible VOCs, we recommend checking the EPA’s tips for protecting yourself and your home from VOC build-up.
Unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to protect your lungs is also one of the oldest: Exercise. Like any other parts of your body, your lungs become healthier and more efficient with practice.
When you exercise at a sufficient level, the number of breaths you take per minute increases drastically as your body’s oxygen requirement goes up. Oxygen is the key compound to producing energy and it is broken down by your muscles and organs to do things as simple as playing a game of cards or as extreme as running a marathon.
The more you exercise, the better your body gets at processing oxygen, meaning you can do more with the same amount of oxygen. The reason that this strengthens your lungs is because they can now supply your organs and muscles more efficiently, making the whole system work better.
Regardless of your current lung health (with a few extreme exceptions), safe exercise is a wholly beneficial activity for you and your lungs. Cardio exercises, which stands for cardiovascular exercise (stuff that gets your heart pumping!), like walking, running, playing sports, and swimming are all excellent choices for strengthening your lungs.
Always exercise within your limits, but don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone in order to help your lungs become as strong as they can be.
An Apple a Day Map Keep Lung Disease Away
A 2017 study from the European Respiratory Journal found that eating fruits high in antioxidants can improve lung health. Although the results of this and several similar studies have not yet found a link to lung restoration, antioxidants have been found to slow the decline of lung health in older adults.
Antioxidants are molecules in the body that neutralize ‘free radicals’, a term that essentially refers to any molecules or compounds in your body that might cause cancer or other diseases. Antioxidants occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, as well as other kinds of food. Their benefit to your lungs is that they help not only with the oxidation process that naturally occurs in your body, they also root out and eliminate harmful molecules that might exist in the blood and tissue of your lungs.
Before you run to the store, know that where you get your antioxidants is important! Many supermarkets and wellness stores now sell antioxidant supplements that can provide an excess amount of these molecules to your body. Often, these supplements are not FDA-approved or helpful to maintaining happy lungs. In one study, the excess antioxidants found in supplements actually increased the spread of lung cancer in some individuals. Before taking any supplement, consult your doctor to make sure the formulation and ingredients are right for you.
The proper way to get antioxidants to your lungs is through a healthy, fruit-and-veggie-filled diet. Here are some suggestions for antioxidant-rich foods:
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Lung Health is Here to Stay
If you or a family member plans to participate in the Great American Smokeout this year, congratulations! Don’t stop at cigarettes and tobacco–share these additional strategies for improving and protecting your lung health. Talk to your doctor and/or caregivers about ways that you can implement lung health protection activities into your daily life.
There’s never been a better time to start than today!