According to the data from Global Burden Disease Study 2017, nearly 545 million people worldwide are suffering from chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In 2017, the chronic respiratory disease had claimed over 3 million of life worldwide and became the third leading cause of death. The analysis has shown that the mortality rates were highest in South Asia countries.1
Cigarette smoking is the major risk factor for lung diseases, other risk factors including air pollution, exposure to second-hand smoke, and occupational exposure to chemicals. In general, people with lung diseases will struggle with symptoms such as difficulty breathing, persistent cough, chest pain and feeling extremely weak. As time goes by, the worsening conditions will deteriorate their quality of life.
Here are some examples of commonly-known lung diseases:
A commonly known lung disease involving inflamed airway walls makes breathing difficult during an attack. Triggers such as tobacco smoke, viral or bacterial infections, cold weather, chemicals, and allergens like pollen, house dust mite lead to inflammation of the interior airway walls. Subsequently, the smooth muscles will contract and produce excess mucus that reduces the airway diameter and eventually restricts a normal airflow into and out of the lung. Asthma patients usually experience wheezing, dyspnea (breathlessness), shortness of breath, and cough.2
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a group of progressive lung conditions with airflow limitation that is not fully reversible, like chronic bronchitis and emphysema (the damage of air sacs in the lungs).3 In chronic bronchitis, there will be excessive mucus production, inflammation, and oxidative damages caused by the inhaled smoke that restrict the air space and damage the cells. In emphysema, the inhaled cigarette smoke causes inflammation in the air sacs and damage the lung structure and function.2 Tobacco smoking is undeniable the most common cause of COPD. Long-term exposure to non-cigarette smoke irritants, like airborne dust, chemicals, and fumes pollutants, further implicate COPD. Patients suffering from any form of COPD will develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent cough, tiredness, wheezing, and tightness in the chest.
Lung cancer is one of the major causes of cancer-related death worldwide.4 Most of the time, patients diagnosed with lung cancer may only develop signs, such as coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, and feeling tired in advanced stages, which causes late diagnoses and inadequate treatment. The cancerous cells are invasive and grow rapidly in the body without dying off. Besides cigarette smoking, second-hand smoke, exposure to radioactive gas and chemicals can also increase lung cancer risk.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the bacteria that causes TB. The highly contagious bacteria can be transmitted from person to person through sneezing, coughing, or spitting and, subsequently, affects the lungs. It can also spread to other parts of the body, like the brain, spine, and kidney. A weakened immune system can increase a person’s risks of getting TB. For example, those who are malnourished, HIV-positive, and under long-term immunosuppressive therapy (steroids) are among the high-risk group.5 Besides, living in or have travelled to an area where TB is common and in contact with people with active TB are susceptible to the infection. The common symptoms of an active TB disease are coughing up blood, chest pain, persistent coughs, tiredness, loss of body weight and appetite.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. People in generally good health will usually recover from pneumonia without complications within several weeks or months. However, babies, the elderly, and those with a weakened immune system due to existing illness, for example, heart diseases and lung diseases, are at high risk of developing pneumonia. Besides, patients already infected by other germs, such as the flu virus, are also prone to develop pneumonia. The common symptoms of pneumonia are high fever and chills, cough with phlegm, shortness of breath, and feeling unwell and weak.6
Supplements & Herbs For Lung Diseases
Several supplements and herbs are helpful for the lungs as they possess health-promoting properties that can address the underlying lung health issues. Here, we are gathering the evidence from clinical researches, especially on how these supplements can benefit the common lung diseases.
Majority of the lung diseases are related to cigarette smoking. Oxidative stress caused by the free radicals in cigarette smoke has led to the damages of body tissues, including the lungs. A study has shown that chronic smokers have depleted antioxidants, such as vitamin C, in the body.7 Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps control lung oxidative stress and aid the recovery of lung function.8,9 In 1991, a study investigating the relationship between lung function and dietary intakes found that those with higher dietary intake of vitamin C had a lower rate of loss of lung function. The finding was based on the follow-up results nine years later that also demonstrated the potential of vitamin C in preventing COPD.10
CoQ10 is a naturally occurring antioxidant that can benefit patients with asthma and COPD. In asthma, CoQ10 has shown to improve airflow and restore the body antioxidant system, which reduces the oxidative injury of the asthmatic airways.11 In COPD, patients have reduced strength and endurance in skeletal muscle. A study has supported the favourable effects on muscular energy with improved oxygen flow in COPD patients at rest and during exercise after the supplementation of CoQ10 for eight weeks.12 In addition, pneumonia patients taking CoQ10 supplements with antibiotics also shown positive effects. For examples, the symptoms of pneumonia have alleviated without side effects, the length of patients' hospital stay was shorten as well as the duration of treatment with antibiotics.13
Ginseng is a traditional medicine widely used in countries like China, Korea, Japan and other western countries. Ginsenosides and polysaccharides are the active components found in ginseng that contribute to most of the health benefits it has to offer. It has shown to improve the overall lung functions of COPD patients due to its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects.14,15 Studies also supported the anti-viral effect of ginseng in combating the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza that are usually the common causes of pneumonia.16,17 Moreover, ginsenosides and polysaccharides in ginseng are also believed to play a part in fighting lung cancer, mainly by controlling the cancer cells growth and the inflammatory response.18
Apart from making your food more flavourful, turmeric is also known for its health-promoting effects due to the active compound – curcumin. A study conducted on 77 patients with mild to moderate bronchial asthma supported that curcumin is a safe and effective add-on therapy for bronchial asthma as it improved airway obstruction and reduced inflammation.19 The ability of curcumin to reduce the airway inflammation is beneficial for COPD. It also helps minimize the risk of lung cancer progression in high-risk COPD patients.20 As a potent antioxidant, curcumin can reduce the lung oxidative damage caused by air pollution, radiation and carcinogen, such as benzo(a)pyrene (BaP).21,22,23 In light of the anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti-viral activity, curcumin could be a promising ingredient in combating the coronavirus infection, as suggested by recent research reviews.24,25
Green tea consumption is associated with a reduced risk of COPD.26,27 The active compounds in green tea, such as catechins, theanine, and other bioactive compounds, are known for their anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory actions. Oxidative damages caused by free radicals had led to higher cancer risks among smokers. A study investigating the effect of tea consumption and oxidative damage found that drinking green tea on a regular basis could significantly reduce the cancer risk among heavy smokers.28 Similar research reviews published in later years had also confirmed the same beneficial effect in regular green tea intake.29,30
Cordyceps is a sac fungus widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the treatment of kidney diseases, fatigue, cough, soothe the lung and expel phlegm.31 In 2016, a study has shown that asthma patients had improved asthma symptoms, lung function, inflammatory profile and overall quality of life after three months of supplementation of cordyceps.32 It is important to note that all patients, including the treatment and control groups, were also on their corticosteroid or medicines for asthma throughout the study. Hence, solely rely on cordyceps for the management of asthma symptoms and lung function are not supported. Similarly, cordyceps has also found to be a promising complementary medicine for the treatment of COPD, mainly in improving the symptoms, lung function, exercise endurance, and patients’ quality of life.33
Lastly, to reduce your chance of chronic lung disease, smoking is the first one on the list to eliminate from your lifestyle. Avoid second-hand smoke and reduce your exposure to pollutants and chemicals are equally important. Vaccination and always practice hand hygiene and avoid touching your face can prevent you from infectious diseases, like pneumonia. If you’re in the high-risk groups, regular healthcare check-ups with screening is a wise move.