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4 Natural Ways to Boost Lung Health

By Dr. Candace Mathers, ND

In this article:


Respiratory health is, understandably, a top concern globally at this time. We are at a unique moment in history where supporting lung health is suddenly not only a concern for those with chronic lung disease. After all, having healthy lungs is a top priority for anyone desiring overall health and well-being.

Poor respiratory health poses a serious concern since it could predispose sufferers to respiratory illnesses like the flu. Illnesses that are contributing factors to poor respiratory health like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis may take a huge toll on overall health and well-being. Furthermore, these illnesses have been linked to other debilitating diseases like cardiovascular disease.

Supporting healthy lungs is not only beneficial but necessary. Vitamin Avitamin Cred ginseng, and cordyceps may help with boosting lung health.

‌‌‌‌Vitamin A, Lung, and Alveoli Health

When many people think about vitamin A, eye health is what immediately comes to mind. While vitamin A may have tremendous benefits for eye health, it is also helpful for boosting lung health.

Vitamin A is a vitamin belonging to a specific class called fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins, which also include vitamins D, E, and K, are absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and stored in the fatty tissues and the liver.

Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and stored in fatty tissue, this means it isn’t excreted readily from the body, and taking excess amounts of vitamin A may be toxic to your body.

Vitamin A may be essential in supporting lung health. Research shows that vitamin A may be crucial for the development of healthy lungs and alveoli, tiny air sacs in the lungs that participate in gas exchange, in early life, as well as maintaining the cell structure and integrity of the lungs throughout life.

Research reveals that vitamin A deficiency may be linked to bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a serious lung disorder in which the lungs don’t develop normally, usually affecting premature infants. Furthermore, studies show that even a moderate deficiency in vitamin A may lead not only to an increased risk of respiratory infections but repeated respiratory infections as well.

Vitamin A deficiency is usually reported at less than 15 micrograms/deciliter (mcg/dL) or less than 0.52 micromoles/liter (μmol/L) depending on the lab in which your test is run. Normal ranges are 15-60 mcg/dL or 0.52-2.09 μmol/L. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends 900 mcg of vitamin A daily for men and 700 mcg daily for women.

Vitamin A can be found in foods like cantaloupe but—to ensure bioavailability, the ability for your body to absorb and use a specific vitamin or mineral—you can always get your vitamin A from high-quality superfoods or vitamin A supplements.

‌‌‌‌Vitamin C May Support Lung Function 

Vitamin C has been enjoying a bit of the spotlight in the last few months because of its powerful antioxidant abilities, but vitamin C may also help to support lung health.

Vitamin C belongs to a different class of vitamins than vitamin A in that it is water-soluble, not fat-soluble, in nature. This means that vitamin C is not stored in any appreciable amounts in the body and any excess vitamin C intake is excreted readily. This also means that there may be less risk of toxicity than with a fat-soluble vitamin.

Research suggests that vitamin C may be a powerful supporter of lung function. A low intake of vitamin C has been linked to lowered lung function in both boys and girls. Conversely, higher levels of vitamin C intake were associated with better lung function. Research also suggests that low vitamin C intake coupled with smoking may lead to COPD later in life.

Studies show that adequate vitamin C intake may not only help to lessen the number of colds you’re likely to get during the year, but it also may shorten the time of the cold, and, in three controlled trials, it helped to prevent pneumonia.

While vitamin C deficiency is usually identified with at-risk populations, such as those who are homeless, older men and women, and those with psychiatric issues, research suggests that low vitamin C intake may be underestimated in the general population.

Levels lower than 2.5 milligrams per liter (mg/L) may suggest a vitamin C deficiency. The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily minimum of 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women.

Vitamin C can be found in foods like citrus fruits, but, if you struggle with getting enough vitamin C, liposomal vitamin C may be an option. Liposomal vitamin C readily enters the bloodstream and may have less gastrointestinal side effects like cramping or loose stools than traditional vitamin C.

While liposomal vitamin C is more bioavailable and may be easier on your gut, conventional vitamin C may still be a great option for increasing your vitamin C intake.

‌‌‌‌Red Ginseng and Immune Support

Red ginseng is a botanical that has been used as medicine in ancient Asian medicine, especially in the cultures of Korea, China, and Japan, for at least a thousand years.

While red ginseng has traditionally been used in these cultures for male infertility, for erectile dysfunction, and to enhance sexual longevity, research is beginning to suggest that it may be a powerful herb for lung support as well.

While research shows that vitamins A and C may be important ingredients for healthy lung development and function throughout life, it shows that red ginseng’s strength in supporting lung health may be in its antiviral and immune-supporting abilities.

Red ginseng is a powerful antiviral. Research shows that it may protect against respiratory syncytial virus, often called RSV, and influenza A virus by helping to stimulate the immune system and reduce lung inflammation associated with these viruses.

Red ginseng, in conjunction with vitamin C, has shown to be very powerful in reducing lung inflammation and increasing the activity of the immune system, specifically specialized immune cells called natural killer cells, to combat influenza infections.

Furthermore, studies suggest that red ginseng is a strong adaptogen. Adaptogens are special substances, like herbs, that can help the body by enhancing its resistance to different kinds of stress, whether internal, like financial or family stress, or external, like viruses.

While there is no standard recommended amount of red ginseng, dosing usually ranges from 200-600 mg or more to promote optimal lung health.

Red ginseng may be powerful — not only as an antiviral but also as an anti-inflammatory. The research that shows it may help support lung health, especially through infectious diseases, is promising.

‌‌‌‌Cordyceps and Lung Strength

Cordyceps belongs to a mushroom family containing over 400 different species. The cordyceps mushroom, with cordyceps sinensis being one of the most well known and studied, has been used for thousands of years in ancient Chinese medicine. The ancient Chinese used cordyceps almost as a panacea, using it for everything from healing liver, heart, and kidney disease to promoting longevity and increasing overall health.

Cordyceps may also have a powerful tradition of supporting and promoting lung health in Chinese medicine. This ancient association is now being shown with modern scientific research.

For example, studies looking at cordyceps and people who suffer from asthma show that cordyceps may be beneficial in improving the quality of life for those who have moderate to severe persistent asthma. One study went on to show that not only did those who received cordyceps during the 3-month study have a higher quality of life than the control group, they also had lower levels of inflammation, as measured by markers like IgE, in their serum.

Cordyceps may not just improve the lives of those who suffer from asthma either. One study showed that people with COPD benefited from supplementing with the mushroom. Taking cordyceps not only helped to improve lung function, but it also helped improve exercise endurance; symptoms of COPD like shortness of breath, chronic cough, and fatigue; and the overall quality of life of those living with COPD.

While there isn’t a standard recommended dosage for cordyceps, dosing can range from 1,000 mg to 3,000 mg for boosting lung health. If this dose seems a bit too unattainable for the raw mushroom itself, you may always take a high-quality cordyceps supplement, in the form of a capsule or powder.

Having an optimally functioning respiratory system and healthy lungs can’t be overstated. Fortunately, you may boost your lung health naturally with vitamin A, vitamin C, red ginseng, and cordyceps.

References: 

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  3. Timoneda J, Rodríguez-Fernández L, Zaragozá R, et al. Vitamin A Deficiency and the Lung. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1132. Published 2018 Aug 21. doi:10.3390/nu10091132 
  4. Gawronski CA, Gawronski KM. Vitamin A Supplementation for Prevention of Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia: Cornerstone of Care or Futile Therapy?. Ann Pharmacother. 2016;50(8):680-684. doi:10.1177/1060028016647066 
  5. Biesalski HK, Nohr D. Importance of vitamin-A for lung function and development. Mol Aspects Med. 2003;24(6):431-440. doi:10.1016/s0098-2997(03)00039-6 
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  7. Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin A. Ods.od.nih.gov. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-Consumer/. Published 2020. Accessed August 17, 2020. 
  8. Gilliland FD, Berhane KT, Li YF, Gauderman WJ, McConnell R, Peters J. Children's lung function and antioxidant vitamin, fruit, juice, and vegetable intake. Am J Epidemiol. 2003;158(6):576-584. doi:10.1093/aje/kwg181 
  9. Pearson P, Britton J, McKeever T, et al. Lung function and blood levels of copper, selenium, vitamin C and vitamin E in the general population. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59(9):1043-1048. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602209
  10. Subbarao P. Vitamin C for Pregnant Smokers to Improve Infant Lung Function. An Orange a Day Keeps the Respirologist Away?. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2019;199(9):1056-1057. doi:10.1164/rccm.201811-2128ED 
  11. Hemilä H. Vitamin C and Infections. Nutrients. 2017;9(4):339. Published 2017 Mar 29. doi:10.3390/nu9040339 
  12. Fain O. Carences en vitamine C [Vitamin C deficiency]. Rev Med Interne. 2004;25(12):872-880. doi:10.1016/j.revmed.2004.03.009 
  13. Lee SM, Bae BS, Park HW, et al. Characterization of Korean Red Ginseng (Panax ginseng Meyer): History, preparation method, and chemical composition. J Ginseng Res. 2015;39(4):384-391. doi:10.1016/j.jgr.2015.04.009
  14. Lee JS, Ko EJ, Hwang HS, et al. Antiviral activity of ginseng extract against respiratory syncytial virus infection. Int J Mol Med. 2014;34(1):183-190. doi:10.3892/ijmm.2014.1750 
  15. Lee JS, Hwang HS, Ko EJ, et al. Immunomodulatory activity of red ginseng against influenza A virus infection. Nutrients. 2014;6(2):517-529. Published 2014 Jan 27. doi:10.3390/nu6020517 
  16. Kim H, Jang M, Kim Y, et al. Red ginseng and vitamin C increase immune cell activity and decrease lung inflammation induced by influenza A virus/H1N1 infection. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2016;68(3):406-420. doi:10.1111/jphp.12529 
  17. Wang N, Li J, Huang X, Chen W, Chen Y. Herbal Medicine Cordyceps sinensis Improves Health-Related Quality of Life in Moderate-to-Severe Asthma. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:6134593. doi:10.1155/2016/6134593 
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