The lungs are essential for human life. They work almost tirelessly, pulling in air and dumping out what can’t be used over and over, day and night. Breathing brings in oxygen and expels carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism. Breathing is also essential to our ability to talk and sing.
The lungs are made of hundreds of thousands of branching tubes that end in tiny air sacs, or alveoli. There are over three hundred million of these tiny sacs in our lungs, offering roughly the surface area of a tennis court to keep up with the respiratory demands of the body. The membranes of these tiny air sacs are also thinner than tissue paper to maximize the exchange of gases.
Our lungs make up a large part of our immune system. Pollutants and infection-causing microbes are captured by mucus in the lungs and shuttled upward by tiny cilia for us to cough out or swallow. Sneezes are another way the lungs help rid us of infection or pollution, often before these invaders even pass beyond the sinuses.
The lungs are remarkable. They should be cared for. First and foremost, do not smoke. Smoking destroys the cilia that help remove infection and pollutants, resulting in clogged airways. Also avoid pollutants both indoors and out. This isn’t always possible, but you can do your part by driving less, using less electricity, using electrical stoves, and limiting exposure. Wear a respirator when painting or doing any hobbies that include dust or industrial gases.
Exercise is also important. It doesn’t necessarily strengthen the lungs as they rely on the diaphragm muscle, but any improvement of the cardiovascular system makes the job of the lungs easier. Do something active for 30 minutes each day to lighten the load on your lungs and increase the efficiency of oxygen transportation and metabolism. These 30 minutes can even be broken up throughout the day. Park further from the grocery store, take the stairs, get up from your desk and walk around the building, do some jumping jacks, walk your neighborhood, or even run in place for a bit. Anything is better than staying on the couch.
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What we eat may not directly affect the lungs, but our food indirectly touches them through the cardiovascular system and by providing antioxidant protection. A high fat diet has also been linked to a higher risk of developing lung cancer. On the other hand, eating fruits has been shown to lower these risks. Eating well goes hand in hand with exercise in keeping your lungs clear, healthy, and not overburdened. Fresh, raw foods are the best way to get the enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that will keep you breathing easy.
Water – Water plays a huge role in health and is the base of any cleansing action. Pure, clean water is essential to keeping blood flowing to and from the lungs. It also keeps our lungs hydrated and the mucus flowing. It may sound disgusting, but that mucus is important and needs to be the right consistency for the cilia to move it—along with toxins, microbes, and pollutants—out.
Garlic and Onions – These pungent foods are great for the heart and thus the lungs too. They reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and fight infection.
Ginger – This spice has anti-inflammatory properties and promotes the elimination of pollutants from the lungs.
Chili Peppers – Peppers are filled with capsaicin, the spicy compound that gives them their bite. Capsaicin improves blood flow, stimulates mucus membranes, and fights infection.
Cruciferous Vegetables – Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale have been shown to halt the progression of lung cancer and cut the risk of developing lung cancer in half. They are rich in chlorophyll that cleans and builds blood, and full of some very effective antioxidants.
Pomegranates – Pomegranate juice slows the growth of lung tumors. Pomegranates contain many antioxidants including ellagic acid, which is gaining strides in cancer research.
Turmeric – This spice is related to ginger with many of the same benefits. It also contains curcumin, a compound that encourages the self-destruction of cancer cells.
Apples – Flavonoids, vitamin E, and vitamin C all help the lungs function at their best. Apples are rich in all of these and those who eat several a week have healthier lungs.
Grapefruit – Naringin, a flavonoid in grapefruit, inhibits the activation of a cancer causing enzyme. White grapefruit contains a high amount of this flavonoid, though pink grapefruit has some too along with the antioxidant lycopene. Grapefruit is especially good at cleansing the lungs after quitting smoking.
Beans, Seeds, and Nuts – These all contain rich amounts of magnesium, a mineral that contributes to healthy lung function. They also provide essential fatty acids that are good for the cardiovascular system.
Carrots – These roots are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and lycopene, all antioxidants that affect lung health and lower the chances of developing lung disease.
Oranges – Citrus is rich in vitamin C and vitamin B6. These help the lungs transfer oxygen.
Pumpkin – Pumpkin is another food rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, like carrots.
Red Bell Pepper – These mild peppers are rich in vitamin C and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids have been shown to cut the risks of developing lung cancer.
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