Emphysema (COPD)

a woman breathing

Emphysema is a degenerative lung disease that develops over many years. Emphysema is sadly becoming an epidemic in America today (the fourth leading cause of chronic mortality), due mainly to a significant increase in free-radicals: smoking, ozone, sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, car exhaust (carbon monoxide) fumes, dust, drugs, pesticides, radiation, and other chemical pollutants. The predominant symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the chest as a result of not being able to get enough oxygen into the lungs. In emphysema, damage usually occurs to the alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs), causing the lungs to lose their elasticity.

COPD is characterized by irreversible airflow limitation that is progressive and is associated with abnormal inflammatory response of the lungs to noxious gases or particles. Chronic emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two different lung disorders, which can occur in combination and result in obstruction of the airways. When bronchitis and emphysema occur together, the condition is sometimes known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD also may include bronchitis and asthma, both of which can interfere with normal breathing. Chronic bronchitis is characterized by an excessive amount of phlegm or mucous in the bronchial passages of the lung(s), sometimes leading to an upper respiratory infection or asthma.  

Although there is no known cure for emphysema and COPD, a combination of conventional medicine with complementary supplements can slow the progression of the disease, ease discomfort, and make breathing easier and less labored. Supplementing with oxygen can benefit anyone with impaired breathing due to any lung disease.

RISKS

The leading risk factors include:

  1. Cigarette smoking is clearly the number-1 modifiable risk factor associated with COPD.
  2. Other environmental allergens (irritants) including occupational dust, indoor and outdoor pollution, chemicals and toxins.
  3. Airway hyper-responsiveness from other respiratory diseases such as asthma and childhood respiratory diseases, and lung infections, occupational dust, indoor and outdoor pollution.
  4. Consuming allergic foods (dairy products, wheat gluten, soy, nuts, etc.)

Healing and prevention are important issues. Identify and avoid dietary and environmental factors that are triggers. Emphysema causes shortness of breath and fatigue. Be careful to know your limitations in exercise and exertion.

a carpenter working

CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT

COPD patients usually present with irreversible lung damage and existing medications only alleviate symptoms of the disease.  Therefore, it is vital to manage stable COPD with inhaled bronchodilators, anticholinergics, and corticosteroids. 

Management should have particular goals.  To prevent disease progression, relieve symptoms, improve exercise tolerance, improve health status, prevent complications, prevent exacerbations, and reduce mortality.

DIET

Individuals with emphysema are frequently underweight and may suffer from a generalized malnutrition, which in turn may lead to an increase in infections and lung dysfunction. COPD patients should avoid mucous-promoting foods, including dairy products, meat, chicken, fried foods, fast food, and refined carbohydrates. It is critical that the patient continues to consume adequate amounts of protein and calories, as well as whole foods (raw foods) with high vitamin and mineral content. In some cases a mechanically soft diet will help to facilitate chewing and swallowing. Constant chewing can tire an individual.

Favorable foods include onions, garlic, soups, skinless free-range chicken, brown rice, cold-water fish, millet, and whole-grain cereals.

If food allergies are suspected (and they usually are), try utilizing the Elimination Diet. If allergies are not certain, try rotating and/or desensitizing foods that are potential allergens. Allergic reactions are common triggers (histamines) that are released by mast cells, which are activated by circulating immune-system cells. The benefits of allergy control appear to be due to a reduction in bronchial spasms, decreased swelling of mucous membranes, and less production of phlegm.

Common food allergens include dairy products (except butter and organic yogurt); citrus fruits; eggs; soy protein; wheat gluten; nuts; and yeast-producing foods like mushrooms. Other food allergens include food additives and preservatives; benzoates; sulfites; benzaldehyde; artificial colors (FD&C yellow#5). It is suspected that the intake of certain trans-fatty acids is associated with the development of asthma and allergies in children. Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils, cakes, cookies, biscuits, margarine, and potato and snack chips.

Some non-food allergens include air pollution, smoke, dander, mold, and pollen.

SUPPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. POTENT MULTI-VITAMIN with MINERALS
    Potent multi-vitamin and minerals, including additional green foods such as CHLOROPHYLL, help the body with needed nutrients and aid in clearing the lungs for improved breathing. Dosage: Up to 3 times daily as instructed. Use hypoallergenic supplements when possible.
  2. MAGNESIUM
    A deficiency of magnesium is found in nearly half the patients with COPD. Patients with low levels of magnesium usually have longer hospital stays. Magnesium relaxes the smooth muscles around the lungs and acts as a bronchodilator, protects nerve endings, and promotes sound sleep. Dosage: 200-800 mg daily. Magnesium is best taken in combination with CALCIUM CITRATE. Dosage: 1,000-2,000 mg daily.
  3. VITAMIN C with BIOFLAVONOIDS (QUERCETIN)
    Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize highly reactive free-radical oxygen molecules, which cause cell damage throughout the body. Vitamin C has antihistaminic and antiallergenic activity and can protect the lungs from damage caused by smoking. Vitamin C is a potent inhibitor of the release of mast cells, which produces histamine- a leading cause of allergic reactions in the body. It also helps to improve the integrity of the respiratory tissue, thus increasing the body’s resistance against infection. Quercetin is a safe bioflavonoid that enhances vitamin C effectiveness and blocks the body’s exposure to allergens, which can trigger an emphysema attack. Dosage: Vitamin C 2,000-10,000 mg daily in divided doses. Quercetin  500-2,000 mg daily.
  4. N-ACETYLCYSTEINE (NAC)
    NAC is an amino acid that is beneficial for the lungs. It acts as a mucolytic (a compound which breaks up mucous in the respiratory tract), and it also activates glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that protects the lungs against free radical destruction.  In a European study, NAC significantly reduced the probability of hospital remission for exacerbation of COPD. Dosage: As directed.
  5. EXTRA ANTIOXIDANTS
    Extra antioxidants can neutralize free radicals associated with protecting the lungs, repairing the lung tissue, and boosting the immune system. Deficiencies of antioxidants in the blood stream will lead to a poor oxygen supply and the destruction of cell membranes. VITAMIN A (doses up to 25,000 IU daily) protects against free radicals. VITAMIN E (400-1600 IU daily) slows down the loss of lung elasticity. SELENIUM (100 mcg), also protects against free radicals.
  6. COENZYME Q10
    CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that enhances oxygen supply to the lungs and produces energy, which may be helpful to patients with COPD. CoQ10 may also aid in the removal of toxins from the lungs and body. Dosage: 90-360 mg daily.
  7. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (EFAs)
    EFAs are healthy fats essential for rebuilding and producing new cells. High amounts of Omega 3 and polyunsaturated fatty acids may help improve lung function among people suffering from chronic COPD. A Japanese study showed EFA use decreased shortness of breath and improved overall exercise tolerance. EFAs are used to decrease inflammation, and their anti-inflammatory activity may help to lower the dose of steroid drugs often prescribed for patients with emphysema. Dosage: 1,000-4,000 mg daily, taken with meals.
  8. AMINO ACIDS
    A number of essential and non-essential amino acids aid in the repair of damaged lung tissue and act as antioxidants, protecting lung tissue from free-radical damage. Amino acids such as L-CYSTEINE, L-GLUTATHIONE and L-METHIONINE are referred to as the building blocks of life. Dosage: 500-1,000 of each daily on an empty stomach.
  9. PERILLA LEAF EXTRACT
    Perilla leaf extract is an herbal extract that has an antihistamine effect and thus may improve allergy-free breathing. Dosage: As directed on package.
  10. MULLEIN
    This herb has the ability to treat respiratory conditions, including emphysema. Mullein is rich in soothing mucilage. Dosage: As directed.
  11. DIMETHYLGLYCINE (DMG)
    DMG is a nutrient that increases endurance and provides oxygen to cells. Dosage: 250 mg 2-3 times daily.
  12. CAPSICUM (RED PEPPER)
    Many British physicians urge their patients with emphysema to eat hot, spicy foods or add hot pepper to their diet. Capsicum is a rich source of antioxidants that helps protect the lungs from free-radical damage. It also helps to thin mucous and move it out of the respiratory tract. Dosage: As directed.
  13. LICORICE
    This herb contains nine expectorant compounds plus ten antioxidant compounds. Long-term use is not recommended, but licorice is safe in moderate amounts. Dosage: As directed on package.
  14. ZINC
    This antioxidant has a special protective effect on the lungs. Most patients with emphysema are low in zinc levels. Hair analysis may help to show zinc deficiency. Dosage: 30-80 mg daily.

 

Balch, JF, Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing- 3rd edition. Penguin Putman Inc. New York, NY. 2000.

Duke, JA, The Green Pharmacy. 1997. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA.

Fatty Acids Protect Lungs. NNfA Today, January 2006. 20(1): 7.

Marion, JB,  Anti-Aging Journal. Information Pioneers, South Woodstock, CN. 1996.

NAC Reduces Risk of Rehospitalization for COPD. Natural Pharmacy, October 2003. 7(5): 4.

Pham, DQ, Guidelines for the Management of COPD.  Pharmacy Times, December 2005. 71(12): 44-48.

Wright, JV, Treating Emphysema-COPD. Nutrition & Healing, May 1997. 4(5) 1-4.

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