As we go on living our daily lives, many of us won’t even think twice about our lungs as we take their health for granted. While we all realize the important role they play in life, if they are functioning well, rarely does a thought in our mind go to how our lungs are performing. But for the millions of American that suffer with lung issues, lung function isn’t something they take for granted. In fact, they are acutely aware of how their lungs are functioning and are looking to ensure they remain functional.
As we’ve gone through the pandemic, these issues have come to the forefront. Over 25 million people in the US suffer from asthma while 15 million more have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The incidence and burden of chronic lung issues continues to increase. Moreover, several areas have experienced increasingly poor air quality, with more wildfires and increasing pollution. These factors, along with higher awareness of how viruses and other infections worsen lung health, have led to many people to search for ways to improve the function of such a crucial system of the body. Also factoring into the equation are environmental allergies, which are increasing in prevalence and have serious implications on our ability to breathe clearly. People are looking towards lifestyle measures such as breathing techniques, as well as nutritional measures, such as dietary supplements, to address and optimize lung health.
Lung Function and Total Lung Capacity
The lungs play a critical role in health and making sure the lungs function well is important for the efficient transfer of oxygen from the air we breathe to every cell in the body. While the lungs transfer oxygen from our environment to the blood stream, they also help remove crucial waste products. When oxygen enters cells, it is exchanged with carbon dioxide. This gas is transferred through the blood stream back to the lungs and then exhaled out. Efficient lung function is needed to ensure this process happens flawlessly.
A huge factor in keeping the lungs healthy is maintaining total lung capacity. At its peak, lung capacity is about 6 liters of air; however, this may begin to decline after the age of 35. Numerous factors can impact total lung capacity as we age. These include lifestyle habits that harm the lungs (exposure to pollution, smoking, or other environmental toxins); airways and air sacs may decrease in size or lose shape; the diaphragm muscle can weaken, preventing full breathing; your posture may prevent your lungs from fully expanding; nerve issues can also influence total lung capacity.
How to Increase Lung Capacity
Fortunately, there are lifestyle interventions that can maximize total lung capacity as we age. These include deep breathing such as yoga breathing poses, which continually stimulate the lungs and allow them to maintain their strength, shape, and function. Removing the source of any environmental toxins also goes a long way towards improving lung health and lung capacity. This includes stopping smoking, reducing the intake of harmful chemicals from pollution, and managing environmental allergies.
There are also many nutrients that can help with lung function that are available as dietary supplements.
Lung Health Supplements
Various nutrients available in supplement form help keep lung function at its peak. Whether the cause is environmental toxins, allergens, or the normal aging process that is the main contributor to poor lung health, free radicals are often involved in causing damage to lung cells. Antioxidants of various forms can help mitigate the damage free radicals cause to lung tissue, leading to better overall lung function.
Another factor in poor lung health, and a hallmark of conditions like COPD and asthma, is lung inflammation. Several plant-based nutrients reduce inflammation in lung tissue and are helpful for supporting optimal lung function.
Two nutritional factors to highlight include the lung antioxidant glutathione and black seed (Nigella sativa) extract.
Glutathione and Lung Function
Glutathione is found in every cell of the body and is considered the body’s master antioxidant. Since our lungs are bombarded with harmful pollutants, immune challenges, allergens, and other environmental irritants every day, defending against free radical damage is key. This is the major function of glutathione. High levels of glutathione in lung tissue adds protection against these challenges.
Studies indicate that adequate glutathione levels from early developmental stages are required for normal lung growth. Deficiencies in glutathione may be predictive for the development of future lung health issues. Research indicates that those with COPD and asthma have depleted levels of glutathione, so supplementing with glutathione may be a promising strategy for helping these conditions. Allergens, irritants, and immune challengers that negatively impact lung function also deplete glutathione, increasing the body’s need for it.
A glutathione supplement can benefit lung epithelial tissue health – that is, the health of the tissue lining the lungs – and protecting it from free radical damage. Inflammation of the lungs is a serious health consideration and glutathione keeps inflammation in check, facilitating healthy lung function.
Beyond its function as a major antioxidant, glutathione has a direct benefit on immune function. Several viral conditions are associated with low glutathione levels, leading to worse outcomes and poorer recovery. Even more significant is that those with chronic health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, lung conditions, obesity, and those who are chronic smokers, are often depleted in glutathione, and it is, in fact, these individuals that have the hardest time recovering from the effects of viruses.
Given its significant role in immune health, antioxidant defenses, and as an anti-inflammatory, a glutathione supplement is an indispensable compound for lung health.
Black Seed and Lung Inflammation
Black seeds are the seeds from the Nigella sativa plant and are sometimes referred to as black cumin or black cumin seed. As tiny black seeds rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, black seeds have been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of health conditions. Recently, researchers have discovered the power of one of the active components, thymoquinone, and have found that it is likely a potent compound for supporting lung health.
Recent investigations show several beneficial effects of black seed oil for inflammation. Studies show that thymoquinone can suppress the production of inflammatory mediators as well as oxidative stress. In immune cell studies, thymoquinone was found to inhibit 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) and its byproducts, showing a strong anti-inflammatory effect. The downstream effects of reducing 5-LOX activity by black seed oil also caused a reduction in the production of eicosanoids, additional chemical messengers of the inflammation response.
Scientific research in white blood cells found that black seed extracts reduced the production of cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, supporting the ability of black seed oil to provide comprehensive inflammation support across multiple key pathways.
Further studies suggest that black seed extracts can have a direct impact on normalizing lung inflammation. In an animal study on allergic asthma, black seed administration reduced lung inflammation and peripheral blood eosinophil count.
Black seed plays an important role in enhancing immune function. Extracts have been found to support strong innate and adaptive immunity. In a clinical study, the administration of black seed powder for 4 weeks led to significant improvements in ratios of CD4+/CD8+ T cells an increase in natural killer cell function.
Further studies indicate additional benefits of black seed extracts on lung function. It acts as a potent inhibitor of histamine release and it also has smooth muscle relaxing properties, benefiting the lungs as a bronchodilator. This makes it well-suited for acute and chronic lung and sinus conditions. Thymoquinone has been well-researched for its bronchodilator effects, while a controlled human trial in individuals with asthma showed that even a single dose of black seed extract led to a short-term bronchodilation effect.
For these reasons, black cumin should be considered as one of the best natural supplements for lung and sinus health. As human studies have found, it has significant benefits for asthma as well as allergic rhinitis.
Supplementing asthma sufferers with black cumin seeds has been evaluated in multiple trials. Black seed extracts yielded significant improvements in asthma symptoms as well as in lung function tests. Bronchodilator effects were also found in some studies, leading to improved ability to breathe effortlessly. A main feature of its benefits for asthmatics is reduced inflammation in the lungs as well as improvements in forced expiratory volume (FEV1), a measure of the ability to breathe easily.
Allergic rhinitis is also a condition characterized by inflammation. Sinus inflammation caused by allergen exposure can lead to seasonal or year-round symptoms. Human studies using black cumin seeds have shown promising results. Symptom improvement included reductions in red, watery eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and itching. This is likely because of black cumin’s antihistamine and anti-inflammatory actions.
As a plant that has been used for millennia to support health, black cumin seed benefits include key properties for promoting healthy lung function and supporting total lung capacity. These include a reduction in inflammation, acting as a bronchodilator, and reducing the release of histamine from immune cells.
Both glutathione and black seed extracts are top recommendations for supporting healthy lungs and ensuring that they continue to perform their important functions of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide efficiently.
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