Nutrition and Lung Health

Adecline in lung function tends to occur naturally as we age, causing breathing to become more difficult. Respiratory infections, air pollutants, smoking, inactivity, and unhealthy eating habits can accelerate this process.1,2 However, a healthy diet, along with exercise and not smoking, can help maintain lung health as we age.1–3

EAT PLENTY OF ANTHOCYANIN-RICH FOODS. An imbalance between unstable molecules, called free radicals, created during metabolic processes and the antioxidants that neutralize them leads to oxidative stress in the body.4 Oxidative stress is a normal occurrence and isn’t always harmful. Oxidative stress from physical activity, for example, moderates tissue and cell growth in muscles. But chronic oxidative stress, usually caused by a poor diet that is high in saturated fat, sugar, and processed foods, as well as obesity, certain genetic conditions, and/or environmental pollutants, can increase your chances of developing lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).5 COPD is primarily caused by chronic oxidative stress and damage caused by smoking and long-term exposure to air pollutants, chemicals, fumes, or dust.6 The most effective way to lower your risk of COPD is through smoking cessation and abstaining from its use. Additionally, foods rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, can aid in mitigating the harmful effects of free radicals in the lungs. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid with compounds that have anti- inflammatory and antioxidant properties that repair tissue damage, control immune responses, and control excessive oxidative stress. Leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and fruits with red, purple, or blue pigments contain anthocyanins.

INCREASE FIBER INTAKE. Fiber intake can reduce lung inflammation, which is the basis of many lung diseases. Fiber has also been shown to improve gut microbiome composition, which can reduce risk of infection and release chemicals into the body that can protect the lungs. In a study originally published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, participants who followed a diet high in fiber-rich foods, such as legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, exhibited better lung function and health compared to participants with a low intake of fiber.


1. The American Lung Association site. Lung health and diseases. Updated 2 April 2020. How the lungs work Accessed 5 April 2020. 2. The American Lung Association site. Lung Health and Wellness. Protecting your lungs.

Updated 11 March 2020. Accessed 5 April 2020.

3. Pittman RN. The Circulatory System and Oxygen Transport: Regulation of Tissue Oxygenation. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences; 2011.

4. Valko M, Leibfritz D, Moncol J, et al. Free radicals and antioxidants in normal physiological functions and human disease. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2007;39(1):44–84.

5. Aruoma OI. Free Radicals, Oxidative Stress, and Antioxidants in Human Health and Disease. JAOCS. 1998;75: 1-14

6. van Eeden SF and Sin DD. Oxidative stress in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a lung and systemic process. Can Respir J. 2013;20(1):27–29.

7. Cassidy A, Rogers G, Peterson JJ, et al. Higher dietary anthocyanin and flavonol intakes are associated with anti-inflammatory effects in a population of US adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(1):172-81.

8. Hanson C, Lyden E, Rennard S, et al. The relationship between dietary fiber intake and lung function in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2016;13(5):643-50.

9. Young RP, Hopkins RJ, and Hanson C. Connecting dietary fiber directly with good lung health. ATS Journals. 2016;13: 1869–1870. NHR

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