Vitamins, antioxidants, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, may help people suffering from chronic lung conditions to reduce inflammation and breathe more easily, according to new analysis.
Researchers from Hungary’s Semmelweis University carried out two literature reviews of studies of thousands of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a chronic lung disease causing less air in the airways and breathing-related problems.
They focused on studies carried out between 2018 and 2023 and published the findings in the journal Nutrients.
The literature reviews from Semmelweis researchers found that in particular, protein, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and vegetables appear to benefit COPD patients.
“Changing the diet from Western type to Mediterranean type is needed,” Dr János Varga, associate professor at Semmelweis University’s Department of Pulmonology, told Euronews Next.
He added that “the Western diet is pro-inflammatory and the Mediterranean diet has anti-inflammatory effects”.
The Semmelweis researchers recommend that people reduce the consumption of red and processed meats, which contain high levels of saturated fats. Varga recommends instead consuming fatty fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel twice a week.
People suffering from COPD require more energy to breathe, so their muscles may need more calories than someone without COPD, according to the American Lung Association.
Eating fewer carbohydrates and more fat may also help people breathe easier, as the body produces more carbon dioxide when it metabolises carbs.
Dr Craig Hersh, director of the COPD clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US, said that experts have “known for a while that kind of a healthy, balanced diet is beneficial for both to reduce the risk of developing COPD and for the treatment of COPD patients”.
“In people who have established COPD, especially as it gets more severe, one of the things that they’re at risk for is losing weight and especially losing muscle mass,” he added, saying it’s about finding a balance to keep a healthy weight and not lose weight.
“When people are more severe that’s when we may recommend more lean protein and making sure they’re maintaining enough calories to maintain their weight in muscle mass,” Hersh added.
Could vitamins help COPD patients?
According to the two literature reviews, daily consumption of Vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, and Vitamin D could help people with COPD. A diet rich in antioxidants can also help with inflammation, the Semmelweis researchers added.
One study researchers cited found that taking 1 g of black seed oil twice daily had positive effects on lung function and airway inflammation.
Hersh, who is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, said that there are no current recommendations to provide vitamins to COPD patients beyond eating a balanced diet.
“If people aren’t able to eat a balanced diet, you know, often recommending older patients to take a multivitamin but not taking any specific vitamins or nutritional supplements beyond that,” he told Euronews Next.
“There have been and are ongoing trials of different nutritional supplements in COPD and other respiratory diseases, but no real convincing results of that I’ve seen to date,” he added.
Third leading cause of death worldwide
The American Lung Association recommends that COPD patients rest before eating, eat slowly, sit upright, and take a break in between bites.
They say that eating food early in the morning can help if people are too tired later. They add that those with COPD should also avoid foods that cause gas or bloating.
COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Tobacco smoking accounts for more than 70 per cent of COPD cases in high-income countries and 30-40 per cent of cases in low to middle-income countries, with the most effective COPD treatment to stop smoking.
Household air pollution is also a risk factor or in some countries cooking with wood or coal indoors. Occupational exposure to dust can also be a risk factor.
Hersh says the common symptoms doctors see day-to-day for COPD patients include “shortness of breath, especially with activity, cough and phlegm production”.
“People can also get acute flare-ups, which we call exacerbations, where they’re worse and require additional treatment and even hospitalisation, and the risks we see long term are getting worse shortness of breath or symptoms needing oxygen either all the time or to help with activity,” he added.
Semmelweis researchers say a healthy diet is best when accompanied by physical training and breathing techniques.
“These will not only lead to an increase in muscle mass and stamina but an improved breathing mechanism as well as weakened respiratory muscles become stronger,” Varga said.
“Overall, breathing becomes easier”.