We live in an increasingly toxic world, with more cars on the road, and exposure to innumerable environmental pollutants and irritants on a daily basis, from the air we breathe to the toxins released by many household and industrial products.
Protecting your lungs from damage from toxins is important for your lungs and your overall health. Lung capacity and function typically starts to decrease with age, as early as the mid-20s, so taking steps to protect your lungs is useful from any age.
Many products are available that claim they will be able to remove toxins from the lungs – from teas to certain vitamins and essential oils and sprays, to name just a few. Whilst there is scant scientific evidence to support the detox claims of such products, there are however plenty of research-based ways you can improve the health of your lungs, naturally.
Our articles are always evidence-based, and orientated towards a holistic and Personalised Health approach; we aim to provide you with actionable knowledge and tips to help you on your journey to optimal health.
In this article, we will take a closer look at what you can do to detox and support your lungs, to ensure they are performing at their best.
If you have a history of lung problems, you should always consult your health practitioner before trying any new natural approaches to enhance your lung health, to avoid any contraindications and ensure you are taking into account your individual health circumstances.
What are your lungs for?
Your lungs are part of your body’s respiratory system, which is responsible for both moving fresh air into your body when you breathe in, and also for removing the waste gas, carbon dioxide (which is produced by the body’s cells as they work) when you breathe out. All your body’s cells need oxygen to enable them to function, which you breathe into your lungs, from where it is then transported throughout the body via your bloodstream.
One of the most important things you can do to protect your lungs, and your general health, is not smoke. If you do smoke, then you should stop. There are a wealth of methods available such as nicotine replacement and hypnotherapy to help you quit for good.
As well as not smoking, avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, and do not be tempted to vape. Whilst e-cigarettes are relatively new and so research on their long-term effects is not available, short-term research already indicates problems such as lungs being less able to clear out mucus as a result of vaping. There is no evidence to say that e-cigarettes are in any way safe.
Strengthen your lungs with exercise
Whatever your age, health status or fitness level, maintaining regular physical activity can help to keep your lungs healthy.
When you carry out cardiovascular exercise – vigorous exercise that raises blood flow and oxygen levels and increases respiration and heart rate – your heart and lungs have to work harder to supply additional oxygen to your muscles. As well as making your muscles stronger, exercise also helps to strengthen your lungs and heart.
Various breathing exercises can help boost your lung capacity and ability to breathe effectively. Try diaphragmatic breathing or ‘belly breathing’ to engage the diaphragm, and pursed-lips breathing to slow breathing down and keep the airways open for longer and increase the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Spend more of your time in green spaces
A review of evidence by the World Health Organisation showed that spending time in urban green spaces can promote physical and mental health and wellbeing. As well as encouraging psychological relaxation and reduction of stress, spending time in green spaces also reduces your exposure to air pollution.
Improve your indoor air
Whilst there may be little you can do to improve the quality of the air you are exposed to outside, you can reduce pollution in your home by using household cleaning and hygiene products and paints that are free from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), parabens and other damaging substances. Minimise dust and get rid of mould, and consider investing in an indoor air filter. Adding house plants can help naturally filter and clean your indoors air.
Increase your antioxidants
Research shows that eating more fruit and vegetables, particularly those that are rich in antioxidants, may help protect your lungs from some of the damage caused by smoking and pollution.
Choose leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and sweet potatoes, cabbage, asparagus, lettuce and squash, as well as beetroot, avocados, grapes, oranges, melon, and berries such as cranberries, strawberries and raspberries. Most importantly, to ensure you are consuming a good variety of healthy fruit and vegetables and benefiting from a range of different antioxidants and vitamins, aim to ‘eat a rainbow’ as often as you can.
The vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables help support your immune system to help you fight off chest infections, as well as other infections.
The health benefits of drinking plenty of water are well known in supporting all the body’s systems and organs, but in terms of your lungs specifically, maintaining adequate hydration is important to keep mucus moving. Without plenty of fluids, mucus is more inclined to sit in your lungs and airways, increasing the risk of infection.
Results of a small Japanese trial showed that acupuncture can help relieve breathing problems associated with chronic lung disease.
Research suggests that acupuncture can relax the muscles in and around the chest, partly due to the release of chemicals that help to dilate the airways, which has a beneficial effect on breathing capacity by alleviating shortness of breath, particularly when combined with other relaxation techniques.
Whilst research has concentrated on patients with chronic lung disease, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), anecdotally, people who do not have lung disease have reported the benefits of acupuncture for increased capacity to breathe and relax.