Don't let your Body Rust - COPD, Heart Disease and Oxidative Stress

Don't let your Body Rust - COPD, Heart Disease and Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is a major factor in the pathogenesis of COPD and heart disease. 

What does this mean?

First of all - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for diseases such as emphysema (weakened and ruptured alveoli) and chronic bronchitis, where the bronchi stay inflamed and over-produce mucus, causing constant breathing challenges.  In COPD, the narrowing/inflammation of the bronchi in COPD can be permanent, compared with asthma, where it is often temporary.

COPD affects the lungs but it also has significant systemic consequences – in other words it can cause problems for other organs and tissues. One of those organs is the heart and as such, lung disease often co-presents with heart problems.

What does oxidative stress have to do with it?

Oxidative stress contributes to both COPD and heart disease by increasing localised inflammation and aging (read more here).

What causes this oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress occurs when oxygen molecules split into single atoms with unpaired electrons - turning them into unstable free radicals

Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging – I liken it to our body rusting like a car.  The more we neglect the body of our car and the more damaging elements we expose it to, the faster the rusting process!

Sources of oxidative stress exacerbate COPD and heart disease

Free radicals are generated by exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution and occupational pollution.  Obesity, hypertension and aging also contribute to the generation of free radicals. 

The oxidative stress in people who have COPD or heart disease can be made worse because the body has a reduced ability to produce the antioxidants needed to nullify the free radicals – this may be because their bodies have lower levels of glutathione circulating and/or reduced activity of antioxidant enzymes and aging or vascular abnormalities.

How can we shift the oxidative balance?

There are strategies we can use to shift the oxidative balance and in doing so, reduce inflammation.

Dietary supplementation and drugs targeted at different oxidative stress pathways are recommended. Dietary antioxidants include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Resveratrol (yes, that’s the red wine one, but preferably take without the alcohol!)
  • Flavonoids (of which anthocyanins sit within)
  • Application of thiol-based antioxidants, such as N-acetylcysteine and carbocysteine.

There are also antioxidants, such as CoEnzyme Q10, which the body naturally produces, but in lower amounts as we age.  Coenzyme Q10 can be taken in supplement form and as well as helping mop up free radicals, it can help improve energy production in cells and mediate inflammatory genes - supporting heart-related conditions.

Food for COPD and heart disease

For people with COPD and heart disease, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is recommended.  Fruit and vegetables are a good source of antioxidants as well as well as fibre – which has also been shown to be important in reducing inflammation via contributing to a healthy gut.

Avoiding highly processed food is also key – no more doughnuts Darcy!

Exercise is important to increase lung capacity, but this should always be at a level that suits each individual.

For more information on how you can improve the health of your lungs, please download our booklet “The Science of Lung Health” via this link.

Please contact Anna or Darcy if you have any questions or comments:





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