Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Also indexed as: Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COLD), Emphysema, Pulmonary Disease
What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to the combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema resulting in obstruction of airways. Although chronic bronchitis and emphysema are distinct conditions, smokers and former smokers often have aspects of both. In chronic bronchitis, the linings of the bronchial tubes are inflamed and thickened, leading to a chronic, mucus-producing cough and shortness of breath. In emphysema, the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) are damaged, also leading to shortness of breath. COPD is generally irreversible and can be fatal.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
Symptoms of COPD develop gradually and may initially include shortness of breath during exertion, wheezing especially when exhaling, and a frequent cough producing variable amounts of mucus. In more advanced stages there may also be rapid changes in the ability to breathe, shortness of breath at rest, fatigue, depression, memory problems, confusion, and frequent waking during sleep.
Conventional treatment options
Doctors recommend that people with COPD stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Medications such as bronchodilators, expectorants, and corticosteroids are commonly prescribed in oral or inhaled (using a nebulizer or inhaler) forms. Additional therapies may include pneumococcal (pneumonia) and flu vaccinations, supplemental oxygen therapy, and breathing rehabilitation programs. In cases of severe COPD, lung volume reduction surgery or a lung transplant may be recommended.
Key nutritional supplements
- N-acetyl cysteine (for bronchitis): (200 mg taken three times per day) N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) helps break down mucus. NAC may also protect lung tissue through its antioxidant activity. Oral NAC improved symptoms in people with bronchitis in double-blind research. Results may take six months.
Other nutritional supplements that may be helpful
- Coenzyme Q10: 90 mg per day for 8 weeks.
- L-carnitine: 2 grams twice per day for 2 to 4 weeks.
Other herbs that may be helpful
- Elecampane (Inula helenium)*
- Ephedra (Ephedra sinica)*
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)*
- Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)*
- Mullein (Verbascum spp.)*
- Yerba santa*
Lifestyle changes that may be helpful
- Quit smoking: Smoking is the underlying cause of the majority of cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Anyone who smokes should stop, and although quitting smoking will not reverse the lung damage from COPD, it can help preserve the remaining lung function.
- Respiratory irritants: Exposure to other respiratory irritants, such as air pollution, dust, toxic gases, and fumes, can aggravate COPD and should be avoided when possible.
- Avoiding exposure to infections: The common cold and other respiratory infections can aggravate COPD. Avoiding exposure to infections or bolstering resistance with immune-enhancing nutrients and herbs can be valuable.
Dietary changes that may be helpful
- Carbohydrates: Researchers have found that increasing dietary carbohydrates increases carbon dioxide production, which leads to reduced exercise tolerance and increased breathlessness in people with COPD. On the other hand, men with a higher intake of fruit (which is high in carbohydrate) over a 25-year period were at lower risk of developing lung diseases. People with COPD should consider eliminating most sources of refined sugars, but not fruits, from their diet.
- Allergies: In a preliminary trial, long-term reduction of some COPD symptoms occurred when people with COPD avoided allergenic foods and (in some cases) were also desensitized to pollen.
- Although evidence suggests that this supplement/herb may be beneficial, an effective dose has not been clearly established. Consult with your healthcare practitioner.