Can we improve our lung function?

A diagnosis of a disease explaining poor lung health can be a relief – you knew that something was wrong - but it can also be incredibly worrying. 

Medical doctors will be able to prescribe a variety of medicines to improve lung function, depending on what the disease is behind the diagnosis – see our last blog Link

Is there anything else can we do?

Let’s start by saying, we don’t want to sound judgemental - sometimes we eat the wrong foods, pick up unhealthy habits and don’t exercise enough – we know, we’ve been there!  What we do want to say, is that our bodies are amazing and with the right support (medical and other) usually, we can improve our health, at any age.

To help illustrate this, we want to share the exciting findings from a UK study, led by Anna’s brother, Dr Peter Campbell, a medical doctor, and a scientist.

Peter heads up the Cancer, Ageing and Somatic Mutation Research Group at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK Link to Peter's bio

In 2020, they published a study in Nature where they found something totally unexpected Link to publication.

If someone is a smoker, many of their cells mutate, but some cells avoid mutation, existing as if they were in “a nuclear bunker.”  When someone quits smoking, these healthy cells grow and replace many of the damaged cells in the lungs.   Basically, our lungs have an almost “magical” ability to repair damage caused by smoking – but only when we stop!

We found this news to be incredibly motivating - it’s never too late to start a repair process.  In fact, Peter and Anna’s Grandmother, who was a chain smoker for 50 years, quit smoking at age 70 and lived another 10 good years – perhaps she was part of Peter’s inspiration for the study, she was a pretty special woman, one of the few people who was able to beat him in cards!

There it is, the number one thing to do for improving lung function, is to quit smoking.  Also, if you are exposed to a lot of pollution and particle 2.5 exposure, then wearing a quality mask when out and about is a good idea – we need to do all that we can to breathe the best air we can.

What else can we do to improve lung function?

Exercise is really important.  Darcy has poor lung function from his sarcoidosis – he moved house a couple of years ago and has to climb crazy steep stairs every day (he also has an amazing view).  He really believes that this hard daily exercise has contributed to him improving his lung function - and scientific research supports that. 

Weight-lifting helps us build big arm muscles, breathing hard helps us build heart and lung strength.  This doesn’t mean we have to run marathons, any kind of exercise works and breathing exercises can be really effective, also activities like yoga are great for lung health. 

Finally, diet can improve lung function.  We know we need to eat more plants and less processed food – that’s a given for general health.  There are also some super foods for lungs

In particular, we love anthocyanins for lung health and immunity.  Have a read of this article in Medical News Today Link which highlights how anthocyanins can slow lung function decline:

“The research revealed that the highest quartile of anthocyanin consumers, when compared with the lowest, had a much slower rate of decline in all three aspects of lung function measured by the spirometry.”

So that means please eat as many purple fruit and vegetables as you can - boysenberries, black currants, blueberries, grapes, elderberries, aubergines, red cabbage, beetroot, purple kumara and black rice! 

There is a catch of course – some styles of cooking will destroy some of the bioactivity of the anthocyanins – try to bake or steam, rather than boil vegetables.

We will find some good recipes to share and if you have any to share, we would love to hear from you.

Good luck in your journey to improve your lung function, be purposeful, forgive yourself on a bad day and believe you can do it – it’s never too late to make improvements and small improvements can make a big difference in how we breathe.

Dr Anna Campbell and Darcy Schack.