12 Foods That May Help You Breathe Better
Need a breath of fresh air? Chow down on these foods for a great pair of lungs and a full body health boost.
If you hear your kids wheezing, give them a glass of apple juice. A British study found that children who drank apple juice once a day cut their likelihood of developing a wheezing problem in half compared to kids who drank it less often. Another study found that women who ate apples regularly during their pregnancy were less likely to have children who suffer from asthma or wheezing. Apples are packed with phenolic acids and flavonoids that are known for reducing inflammation in the air passageways, a common feature of both asthma and wheezing. (Here are more of the best and worst foods for asthma.) “Asthma has increased in prevalence,” says Alan Mensch, MD, senior vice president of medical affairs at Plainview and Syosset hospitals in Long Island, New York. “Some people speculate it’s because our diets have gone from a healthy diet to a less healthy diet over the past couple of decades.” Don’t miss these other everyday items that can cause lung problems.
The mono and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil are great for more than just your skin, hair, and heart; they also play a role in lung health. In fact, olive oil may help fight the health risks associated with air pollution like increased blood pressure and impaired blood vessels—factors that can reduce your oxygen supply, make your heart pump faster and make breathing more difficult. An Environmental Protection Agency study administered fish oil, olive oil, and no oil to three groups of adults; after one month, participants breathed in filtered air and polluted air for several hours. The olive oil trumped all by boosting the blood vessel’s response to pollutant stress and increased levels of tPA, a blood protein that dissolves clots, which can give you shortness of breath. Scientists believe the oleic acid, an anti-inflammatory component found in olive oil, may be responsible. “Olive oil is a healthy oil that serves an antioxidant function, says Norman H. Edelman, MD, Senior Scientific Advisor for the American Lung Association. “It helps fight the primary effects of pollutants, which is inflammation and the bad molecules that come from inflammation, which are the oxidants.” Here’s how to know if you’re actually buying fake olive oil, which is surprisingly common.
That cup of Joe does more than give your brain a jolt—it could also alleviate asthma symptoms. Caffeine may act as a bronchodilator, which opens up those tight airways in asthmatics and reduces respiratory muscle fatigue. A review of several small studies concluded that caffeine could improve your lung functions for up to four hours. “Caffeine is a mild bronchodilator; however, it doesn’t compare to an inhaler,” says Dr. Mensch. Even if your morning coffee does improve your breathing, the effects aren’t long lasting, which means it’s safest to always have your inhaler in tow.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon are an antioxidant powerhouse that helps reduce inflammation in the lungs and may also fight bacteria. “Inflammation is the big bad wolf in biology now,” says Dr. Edelman. Researchers at the University of Rochester had mice inhale an omega-3 derivative and discovered omega-3s may help reduce inflammation and fight off a common bacterial infection found in people living with lung disease. Scientists believe this could have promising implications in humans. Don’t miss these silent signs of lung disease.
A hot mug of green tea is loaded with antioxidants that calm the body, decrease inflammation, and promote better healing. But the star of the bunch is quercetin, an antioxidant that acts as a natural antihistamine. This means it slows the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals in the body that can cause allergy symptoms. The hot water is also great for soothing your throat and protects your lungs from irritation by flushing out mucous membranes. “It’s important to stay well hydrated to keep mucous secretions thin and flowing and to help keep airways clear,” says Stephanie Schiff, RDN, a dietitian at Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York.
Seeds are a tiny but mighty tool in achieving optimal lung health. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed provide your body with a bountiful helping of magnesium, a critical mineral for people with asthma. Magnesium helps the muscles in your airways relax and reduces inflammation, so you can breathe nice and easy. (These are signs you could be deficient in magnesium.) Grab a handful to snack on, mix them up in your smoothie, or sprinkle them on your salad to enjoy seeds’ nutritious benefits. Just don’t start taking this vitamin that could raise your risk of lung cancer.
Sturdy veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower may help reduce your risk of lung cancer. More research needs to be done to bolster the connection, but one large study analysis from Boston researchers suggested that women who ate more than five servings of cruciferous vegetables weekly had a lower risk of developing lung cancer. (Here are more habits to prevent lung cancer.) This family of veggies is plentiful in glucosinolates, natural compounds that have been found to inhibit the development of some types of cancer in animals and some humans, including lung cancer, by deactivating cancer cells and decreasing inflammation. Watch out for these easy-to-ignore lung cancer symptoms.
Orange fruits and veggiesiStock/Jasmina81
Orange fruits and vegetables like pumpkins, oranges, and papayas are full of lung-friendly antioxidants, most notably vitamin C. Vitamin C is well known for fighting infections and inflammation, and a review of studies suggested that it may play a role in reducing the frequency of exercise-induced asthma symptoms by as much as 52 percent. “But aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables,” says Schiff. “Dietitians often say, ‘Eat the rainbow,’ to get a good sampling of antioxidants.” Don’t miss these clear signs of exercise-induced asthma.
This potent aromatic also has anti-inflammatory properties and reduces damage caused by free radicals. One Chinese study discovered that people who consumed three cloves of raw garlic twice a week were 44 percent less likely to develop lung cancer. Even smokers reduced their risk by 30 percent. “It’s not a substitute for stopping smoking,” Dr. Edelman says. “If you smoke, the best thing to do is quit.”Here are 10 more reasons you have a cough that won’t go away.
Steer clear of the loaf of white bread and fill your tummy with fibrous whole grains like whole wheat, quinoa, and brown rice. A diet rich in simple carbohydrates like white pasta or muffins may increase your carbon dioxide production and place more stress on your lungs, which makes it harder to breathe, Donald A. Mahler, MD, a pulmonologist in Lebanon, New Hampshire, told everydayhealth.com.
What’s good for your heart is often good for your lungs, and beans are the perfect example. Patients with lung disease spent less time on a ventilator after receiving an antioxidant-rich cocktail made of zinc, selenium, and manganese all found in beans, according to a study by Egyptian researchers. Another study showed that zinc increased the levels of an antioxidant called superoxide dismutase, one of the body’s most powerful protectors from free radicals, harmful molecules that can cause inflammation and make it harder to breathe. Find out how to spot the symptoms of asthma as an adult.
Nuts give your body a dose of vitamin E, which helps reduce inflammation, boosts your immune system, and creates red blood cells, which deliver more oxygen to your body. A stable supply of oxygen prevents the blood vessels in your lungs from constricting and helps you breathe better. “A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and other plants sources and low in processed foods and sugar can help keep your lungs and the rest of your body in top shape,” says Schiff. Munch on nuts after doing these exercises that build lung power.