So you’ve quit smoking? Congratulations! You’ve taken a big step, and one that will have big benefits for you—quitting can help you lower your chances of heart disease, emphysema, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disease, erectile dysfunction, age-related macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis, and much more. This one decision has the potential to add years to your life and health to those years.
But perhaps you’re worried about the damage you’ve already done to your lungs during your years of smoking. Is there any way that you can detoxify your lungs and undo the damage? Let’s examine the possibilities.
1. Exercise Caution
Although detox diets may be all the rage, the science is still definitely very iffy regarding them. According to Dr. Michael Smith of WebMD, a lot of detox diets can actually put a big load on your body. According to him, “your body is an expert at getting rid of toxins” on its own, and extreme detox diets can even be harmful. So is the concept of a lung detox diet entirely worthless? Not necessarily: “the only type of detox diet that is worthwhile is one that limits processed, high-fat, and sugary foods, and replaces them with more fruits and vegetables.” This sort of diet won’t just help your lungs, it will help make your whole body healthier.
2. Eating for COPD
Depending on exactly the sort of lung problems you have, changing your diet may be able to help you. While it’s not exactly a lung cleanse, it is definitely worthwhile. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one serious lung disease that diet can certainly help to improve. In COPD, the lungs become damaged and gradually lose their ability to take in air, making it harder to breathe. According to the CDC, COPD is “the number-3 killer in the nation” and “is almost always caused by smoking.” According to their estimates, as many as 9 out of every 10 deaths caused by COPD are caused by smoking.
For people who suffer from COPD, reducing the number of carbohydrates in one’s diet and increasing one’s amount of fat can help. Because of the way they're broken down in the body, carbohydrates produce more carbon dioxide than fat. This carbon dioxide then has to be exhaled as a waste product, which can be extra challenging to some people with COPD.
People with COPD are recommended to choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates, eat plenty of fiber (20 to 30 grams daily), eat quality protein at least twice daily, stay hydrated and choose mono- and poly-unsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats.
3. Specific Foods for Lung Health
A study published in Thorax in 2000 followed 2,512 men between the ages of 45 and 59. The findings of the study suggested that there may be further links between one’s diet and one’s lung health. In the study, good lung function “was associated with high intakes of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, citrus fruit, apples and the frequent consumption of fruit juices/squashes.” When additional variables such as social class, smoking history, exercise, etc. were taken into consideration, “only the associations with vitamin E and apples persisted.”
While more research doubtless needs to be done regarding diet and lung health, it seems that there are foods that can detoxify your lungs—or at least boost their health in other ways.
If you’ve smoked for a long time, you probably know that it makes exercising harder. But did you know that exercise can help to protect your lungs? A 2006 study from Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Protection suggest that even people who continue to smoke gain benefits to their lung health through exercise. Getting up and active makes your lungs work, and this can help you to increase their function. However, if it’s been a long time since you’ve exercised, make sure that you exercise carefully. Speak with a doctor to determine what exercises would be safe and healthy for you.
There are plenty of claims that yoga can detoxify your lungs, or that certain asanas can essentially perform a lung cleanse. Regardless of whether this is precisely true, studies have shown that yoga can be very good for your lungs. In a study published in the 2012 International Journal of Yoga, 60 COPD patients practiced yoga daily for two months. After the two months, the people who had done yoga showed significant improvement in their lung health (measurable by diffusion capacity, or the ability of gases in the lungs to transfer into the blood stream).
6. Breathing Exercises
Even if you don’t know yoga, you can still do deep breathing, which can help you breathe more easily, strengthen your breathing muscles and get more oxygen. Try this breathing exercise:
Relax your muscles, then breathe in through your nose for two seconds. Breathe out through pursed lips, drawing it out for four seconds (or twice as long as you breathed in).
Try to breathe deeply, letting the air swell your belly, not your chest.