Medically Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Swick, MS, RDN
Don’t Ignore Your Lungs
Respiratory health has a significant impact on quality of life. If you’re active or even athletic, good respiratory health is vital to achieving peak performance as well as optimal recovery. Even if your exercise levels are more moderate, impaired respiratory function can leave you feeling fatigued, irritable and less mentally agile than you could be. But especially this year with an additional and dangerous virus lurking, don’t forget to take care of your lungs – the hub of respiratory health.
There are several nutrients and extracts you should explore (it takes about three weeks for a supplement to start kicking in, so start now.) Separately or together, they’re scientifically shown to give respiratory health and the immune system a much-needed boost.
Like a warm hug for your lungs
Various nutritional supplements have been shown to support lung function. Anti-inflammatory herbs such as devil’s claw, turmeric and ginger have been shown to support lung function in many ways. But research reveals these four nutrients and extracts are true respiratory health heroes:
NAC – boosts your “master antioxidant”
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is the supplement form of the amino acid, cysteine, which is vital for replenishing L-Glutathione – referred to as the body’s master antioxidant. The body uses it to neutralize free radicals and inflammation that threaten cellular function in the lungs and throughout other health systems. Also, NAC works as a natural expectorant that helps loosen buildup in air passageways, making it a great tool for cold and flu season.
NAC is widely regarded as one of the best supplements for lung health. Studies show NAC can give fit and healthy lungs a boost, which is why it’s popular among active individuals and athletes who want to take their respiratory rate to higher levels of intensity. But what’s most remarkable is this amino acid’s effect on COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) sufferers. Studies revealed that COPD subjects who took NAC, either oral supplements or inhaled therapies, experienced improvement in respiratory function.
Quercetin – fights allergies and bacterial threats
Quercetin is a concentrated plant pigment and polyphenol that has been studied for its wide range of benefits, including helping to reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of age-related cellular conditions. As a powerful antioxidant, quercetin helps destroy free radicals whose mission is to create oxidative stress. Most notably, science shows quercetin is a powerful allergy fighter and antibacterial that protect respiratory health.
A red-purple coloration identifies quercetin-rich foods, such as red cabbage, berries and cherries, though it’s also present in many other foods, such as broccoli, citrus fruit and black tea. To get the full, health-promoting benefits of this antioxidant, especially during cold and flu season, take it in concentrated supplement form. To enhance bioavailability and absorption, research suggests you take quercetin and NAC together for optimal benefits.
Vitamin C – get over colds faster
Recently, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, suggested vitamin C is a top supplement to take during high-risk winter months. Why? Because all-purpose vitamin C is essential for a variety of health functions, not the least of which is supporting respiratory health. Its immune-boosting power is well-known, but it also enables iron absorption – a key mineral needed to support the body’s first line of defense against harmful bugs and microbes – and to encourage production of collagen, found in skin, lungs and other connective tissue.
Vitamin C is a must-have for cold and flu season because this water-soluble nutrient is tolerable in high doses, which research shows can help reduce the duration of colds by about one day. In fact, experts suggest 1,000 mg of vitamin C is an effective, therapeutic serving.
Collagen – not just for skin
You may not expect the protein associated with smooth, youthful skin to appear on a list of ingredients that support respiratory health. But collagen is fundamental to healthy respiratory function. As a building block of connective tissue, collagen is found in a wide range of tissue throughout the body including bones, joints, cartilage, tendons, the gut lining, and lungs.
Specifically, in relation to lung function, research shows that collagen can “tighten up” lungs in the same way it can skin. When you consume collagen protein and other protein sources, the amino acids are broken down and used to form new, healthy lung tissue. It adds elasticity and strength to the lungs and supportive structures including blood vessels and bronchi. In studies on collagen and lung health, participants with respiratory illnesses showed deterioration of collagen in the lungs.