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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

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Supplements for COPD

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
November 4, 2022
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Struggling with breathing problems may be affecting your daily life, and can get quite frustrating, even debilitating depending on the severity of your condition. We hear you. But before you buy into the hype of supplements marketed to help you, here’s a little more information to know which ones are really good, and which ones may not be supported by research.

Vitamins that May Help to Repair the Lungs (according to the Centers for Respiratory Health)

Remember that most brands on the market may contain multiple of the supplements in this list, and oftentimes by the scientific name. Talk with your doctor about the supplements before taking them, and read the active ingredients to give you an idea of their likelihood to help.

Vitamin C

  • Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. With COPD, smoking, and many other chronic lung conditions, lung damage and inflammation is caused by free radicals and toxins introduced into the body. Antioxidants help to combat that inflammation and free radical damage.
  • But while taking a vitamin C supplement may be helpful, this vitamin is abundant in nature, and is highest in guavas, bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, broccoli, papaya, kale, and snow peas to name just a few. Increasing these from the diet is always best.
  • Be careful - vitamin C is one of the most unstable nutrients, and can be destroyed by oxygen, light, and heat. Cut right before consuming, and do not cook to get the most nutritional Vitamin C.

Vitamin A

  • Vitamin A is critical for your immune health, and plays a key role in your cells' ability to grow and different types of cells as they do so. because of this role of vitamin A, getting enough of it may help your body naturally repair those struggling cells in the lungs.
  • Vitamin A is fat-soluble though, so while you need some fat in the diet to help absorb vitamin A, it can also be toxic in significantly high quantities. It is difficult to get toxic doses of vitamin A from the diet (unless you are eating polar bear liver), but if you are taking a Vitamin A supplement, clear it with your doctor first, as doses above 100,000 μg for months can be toxic.
  • Foods rich in vitamin A are liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, tuna fish, winter squashes, dark leafy greens, cantaloupe, lettuce, bell peppers, pink grapefruit, and broccoli.
  • The amount of Vitamin A that most of us need in a day is around 900μg per day (per FDA and NIH).

Some supplements with weaker correlations to lung health:

Vitamin D

  • Vitamin D has been shown in some studies to improve lung health in patients with COPD, but more research is needed. Overall, patients with Vitamin D deficiency have been shown in several studies to have improved health outcomes for Hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and also Diabetes, when they take a Vitamin D supplement prescribed to boost low levels. If you want to take a vitamin D supplement, check first with your doctor to see if your levels are low.

Several herbs and supplements have been used for centuries to alleviate symptoms similar to COPD, including the common cooking herb, thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Other herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine include ginseng (Panax ginseng)(supported by 3 studies: 1, 2, 3), curcumin (Curcuma longa), and red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza). The supplement melatonin may also provide relief.

  • While research on thyme, ginseng, melatonin, and red sage is promising and may help relieve symptoms, not enough research exists to know exactly how long the effects last, or whether the improvement will work for most.
  • Research on turmeric (curcumin) is highly promising: some research suggests that it lowers the oxidative stress caused by COPD, and may help improve it. Other research supports reduction in symptoms by reducing inflammation. Research remains ongoing on turmeric and its potential to help not only lung function, but many other conditions, including cancer.

Takeaways

While most herbal supplements marketed towards lung health have less evidence supporting their use, there are several vitamins and a couple supplements that may be helpful. While Vitamins A and C showed most promising, they can be easily obtained from food, if you follow a healthful, balanced diet with a lot of nutrients. Vitamin D has been shown helpful in improving life with many conditions, but mostly when your blood levels are already low. Check with your Dietitian about how you may get more nutrients from your diet in a tactful, safe way, and ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels if you are wondering whether to take a supplement or not. Regarding several herbs on the market, ginseng and turmeric appear to have the strongest research to support their use. Talk with your doctor before starting any supplements, and double check with your dietitian about your nutrient balance.

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