Keeping your lungs healthy is essential to feeling your best. Yet, common factors, including exposure to cigarette smoke and environmental toxins, as well as eating an inflammatory diet, can take a toll on this pair of important organs.
What's more, common conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis, can significantly affect your quality of life.
However, research has shown that lifestyle modifications, including following a nutrient-rich diet, can help protect your lungs and even reduce lung damage and symptoms of disease.
What's more, specific nutrients and foods have been identified to be particularly beneficial for lung function.
Here are 20 foods that may help boost lung function.
1. Beets and Beet Greens
The vibrantly colored root and greens of the beetroot plant contain compounds that optimize lung function.
Beetroot and beet greens are rich in nitrates, which have been shown to benefit lung function. Nitrates help relax blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, and optimize oxygen uptake.
Beetroot supplements have been shown to improve physical performance and lung function in people with lung conditions, including COPD and pulmonary hypertension, a disease that causes high blood pressure in the lungs.
Additionally, beet greens are packed with magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and carotenoid antioxidants — all of which are essential to lung health.
Peppers are amongst the richest sources of vitamin C, a water-soluble nutrient that acts as a powerful antioxidant in your body. Getting enough vitamin C is especially important for those who smoke.
However, many studies show that smokers may benefit from higher doses of vitamin C and that smokers with high vitamin C intake have better lung function than those with lower vitamin C intake.
Consuming just one medium-sized (119-gram) sweet red pepper delivers 169% of the recommended intake for vitamin C.
Research has shown that regularly eating apples may help promote lung function.
For example, studies show that apple intake is associated with a slower decline in lung function in ex-smokers. Additionally, consuming five or more apples per week is associated with greater lung function and a reduced risk of developing COPD.
The brightly colored flesh of pumpkins contains a variety of lung-health-promoting plant compounds. They're especially rich in carotenoids, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin — all of which have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies show that having higher blood levels of carotenoids is associated with better lung function in both older and younger populations.
People who smoke may significantly benefit from consuming more carotenoid-rich foods like pumpkin.
Evidence suggests that smokers may have 25% lower concentrations of carotenoid antioxidants than nonsmokers, which can harm lung health.
Turmeric is often used to promote overall health due to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin, the main active component in turmeric, may be especially beneficial for supporting lung function.
A study in 2,478 people found that curcumin intake was associated with improved lung function. Plus, the lung function of smokers who had the highest intake of curcumin was significantly greater than smokers who had low curcumin intake.
In fact, high curcumin intake in smokers was associated with 9.2% greater lung function, compared with smokers who did not consume curcumin.
6. Tomato and Tomato Products
Tomatoes and tomato products are among the richest dietary sources of lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant that has been associated with improved lung health.
Consuming tomato products has been shown to reduce airway inflammation in people with asthma and improve lung function in people with COPD.
A 2019 study in 105 people with asthma demonstrated that a diet rich in tomatoes was associated with a lower prevalence of poorly controlled asthma. Plus, tomato intake is also associated with a slower decline in lung function in ex-smokers.
Blueberries are loaded with nutrients, and their consumption has been associated with a number of health benefits, including protecting and preserving lung function.
Blueberries are a rich source of anthocyanins, including malvidin, cyanidin, peonidin, delphinidin, and petunidin.
Anthocyanins are powerful pigments that have been shown to protect lung tissue from oxidative damage.
A study in 839 veterans found that blueberry intake was associated with the slowest rate of decline in lung function and that consuming 2 or more servings of blueberries per week slowed lung function decline by up to 38%, compared with low or no blueberry intake.
8. Green Tea
Green tea is a beverage that has impressive effects on health. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a catechin concentrated in green tea. It boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to inhibit fibrosis or scarring of tissues.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease characterized by progressive, lung-function-compromising scarring of lung tissue. Some research shows that EGCG may help treat this disease.
9. Red Cabbage
Red cabbage is an affordable and rich source of anthocyanins. These plant pigments give red cabbage its vivid color. Anthocyanin intake has been linked to a reduced decline in lung function.
What's more, cabbage is packed with fiber. Studies show that people who consume more fiber have better lung function than those who consume low amounts of fiber.
Edamame beans contain compounds called isoflavones. Diets rich in isoflavones have been associated with a reduced risk of numerous diseases, including COPD.
A study in 618 Japanese adults found that people with COPD had much lower intakes of dietary isoflavones, compared with healthy control groups. What's more, isoflavone intake was significantly associated with better lung function and reduced shortness of breath.
11. Olive Oil
Consuming olive oil may help protect against respiratory conditions like asthma. Olive oil is a concentrated source of anti-inflammatory antioxidants, including polyphenols and vitamin E, which are responsible for its powerful health benefits.
For example, a study that included 871 people found that those who had high olive oil intake had a reduced risk of asthma.
What's more, the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, has been shown to benefit lung function in smokers, as well as people with COPD and asthma.
Oysters are loaded with nutrients that are essential to lung health, including zinc, selenium, B vitamins, and copper.
Studies show that people with higher blood levels of selenium and copper have greater lung function, compared with those with lower levels of these nutrients.
Additionally, oysters are an excellent source of B vitamins and zinc, nutrients that are especially important for people who smoke.
Yogurt is rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and selenium. According to research, these nutrients may help boost lung function and protect against COPD risk.
A study in Japanese adults found that higher intakes of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium were associated with increased lung function markers, and those with the highest calcium intake had a 35% reduced risk of COPD.
14. Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are amongst the richest sources of selenium that you can eat. A single Brazil nut may contain over 150% of the recommended intake for this important nutrient, though concentrations vary significantly depending on growing conditions.
Studies show that a high selenium intake may help protect against lung cancer, improve respiratory function in people with asthma, and enhance antioxidant defenses and immune function, which may help improve lung health.
Because Brazil nuts are such a concentrated source of selenium, it's recommended to keep your intake to just one or two nuts per day.
In addition to boosting your energy levels, your morning cup of joe may help protect your lungs. Coffee is packed with caffeine and antioxidants, which may be beneficial for lung health.
Research shows that coffee intake may help improve lung function and protect against respiratory diseases. For example, caffeine acts as a vasodilator, meaning it helps open blood vessels, and it may help reduce symptoms in people with asthma, at least in the short term.
16. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is a dark leafy green that's high in magnesium. Magnesium helps protect against inflammation, and it helps bronchioles — tiny airways inside your lungs — stay relaxed, preventing airway restriction.
Higher magnesium intake has been associated with better lung function in a number of studies. What's more, low magnesium levels are associated with worsening symptoms in people with COPD.
Barley is a nutritious whole grain that's high in fiber. High fiber diets rich in whole grains have been shown to have a protective effect on lung function and may reduce the risk of mortality from lung-related diseases.
Anchovies are tiny fish that are packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, as well as other lung-health-promoting nutrients like selenium, calcium, and iron.
Eating omega-3-rich fish like anchovies may be particularly beneficial for people with inflammatory lung diseases like COPD. A 2020 study found that a higher intake of omega-3 fats was associated with reduced COPD symptoms and improved lung function.
What's more, consuming an omega-3-rich diet may help reduce symptoms in people with asthma.
Lentils are high in many nutrients that help support lung function, including magnesium, iron, copper, and potassium.
The Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with promoting lung health, is high in legumes like lentils.
Research has shown that following a Mediterranean dietary pattern can preserve lung function in people who smoke. Plus, eating fiber-rich lentils may help protect against lung cancer and COPD.
Cocoa and cacao products like dark chocolate are high in flavonoid antioxidants and contain a compound called theobromine, which helps relax the airways in the lungs.
Additionally, a study that included 55,000 people found that those with higher flavonoid consumption from foods, including chocolate products, had better lung function than people who had diets low in flavonoids.
The Bottom Line
Consuming a diet high in nutritious foods and beverages is a smart way to support and protect lung health.
Coffee, dark leafy greens, fatty fish, peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, oysters, blueberries, and pumpkin are just some examples of foods and drinks that have been shown to benefit lung function.
Try incorporating a few of the foods and beverages listed above into your diet to help support the health of your lungs.
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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