Can Vitamins Really Help Maintain Respiratory Health? Experts Explain

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    Lungs are responsible for a constant supply of oxygen to the body. We'll discuss the science of how certain vitamins & nutrients can promote respiratory health.

    What are the factors that go into respiratory health?

    The lungs are the largest organ in the body and help our bodies obtain life-giving oxygen. Inside the cells, oxygen is used to make ATP, the main cellular source of energy.

    Good respiratory health involves a healthy immune system and management of oxidative stress. The lungs contain a large number of immune cells that protect against airborne pathogens and toxic compounds. The lungs also use certain nutrients to combat oxidative stress. This is a process that can occur from daily bodily processes as well as additional stressors like environmental toxins, unhealthy diet, and injury. It’s also a normal part of aging.

    The top 5 vitamins and minerals for respiratory health

    Certain nutrients come out on top for supporting respiratory health. Let’s discuss the top five.

    Vitamin C for respiratory health

    Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which is a compound that counteracts the oxidative stress caused by free radicals, unstable compounds that can cause unfavorable reactions and damage to tissues in the body.

    This antioxidant vitamin helps the body to restore levels of vitamin E, which get depleted when cleaning up oxidative stress. This synergistic process has been coined “vitamin E recycling.” Vitamin E, as we’ll discuss, plays an important role in respiratory health.

    Studies show that vitamin C also has promising benefits of managing respiratory symptoms caused by exercise.

    Each capsule of Care/of’s Vitamin C provides 250 mg of vitamin C and is fortified with natural plant compounds, called flavonoids, that support vitamin C in the body. This combination of ingredients may help address seasonal sinus and lung issues.

    Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

    Magnesium for respiratory health

    Magnesium acts as an essential cofactor for enzyme reactions in the body that help produce energy from ATP. Since the lungs are continuously active to allow us to breathe all day long, magnesium is particularly important for respiratory function.

    One study shows that low dietary intake of magnesium can also impact lung function. This mineral acts as a bronchodilator, which means that it can help to relax the lung muscles and widen the airways to support respiratory health. Magnesium along with other nutrients contribute to managing enzymes called DAO (diamine oxidase) and HDC (histamine decarboxylase) which both help with the metabolism of histamine. s.

    Vitamin E for respiratory health

    Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that blocks the production of free radicals when fat gets oxidized. Therefore, vitamin E may be able to help manage issues associated with free radicals and oxidative stress.

    According to a longitudinal aging study, there is a positive association between vitamin E intake and lung function.

    Foods rich in vitamin E include wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts.

    Omega 3s for respiratory health

    Omega-3s are essential fats known for their important roles in the body, including the structure of cell membranes and immune response. While there is no evidence to suggest a direct connection of omega-3 fats to respiratory support, studies show that dietary intake of fish oil, an excellent source of omega-3 fats, can manage levels of eicosanoids like leukotriene and prostaglandins, which are signaling molecules found in the body. This study also reports that omega 3 intake may offer respiratory support for those with short term exposure to everyday air pollutants. .

    The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 types of fats is particularly important for overall health and immune function. While both types of fats are essential, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in Western diets is estimated to have increased to 20:1, whereas a healthier ratio may be in between 2:1-4:1.

    A simple way to bring your omega 6:3 ratio to a healthier level is to limit processed foods and increase your intake of omega-3 rich foods. Omega-3 fats are naturally found in foods such as fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, foods that may not be commonly eaten as often as they should for optimal nutrient intake.

    Vitamin D for respiratory health

    Vitamin D is known for having immune-modulating effects. The lungs contain multiple areas that convert vitamin D to its active form, where the vitamin can then exert its immune benefits.

    Vitamin D enhances antioxidant responses from bronchial cells by protecting against oxidative stress. On the other hand, vitamin D deficiency can lead to an increased risk for potential respiratory issues.

    What factors may negatively impact respiratory health?

    As the body’s largest epithelial surface. "epithelial surface") in direct contact with the external environment, the lungs are one of the main organs to deal with environmental toxins.

    Several lung issues are associated with oxidative stress from sources like cigarette smoke and air pollution. When we have too much exposure to these toxins or not enough nutrients to reduce the oxidative stress, respiratory issues can develop.

    Lung capacity and function can also decrease with age, possibly due to the result of accumulated oxidative stress throughout life.

    What are other natural ways to support respiratory health?

    Aim to follow an overall healthy lifestyle including healthy, nutrient-dense diet, regular exercise, and avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and other environmental pollutants.

    Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise can support respiratory health. Aerobic exercise can help increase the breathing capacity of the lungs and circulation, which together can deliver more oxygen to the body. Muscle-strengthening exercise can support stronger muscles around the ribcage that aid in breathing.

    Deep breathing can also enhance respiratory health by increasing oxygen diffusing capacity, or the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. In one study, deep breathing increased levels of oxygen in the blood as well as reduced blood pressure already within normal limits.

    Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits to get plenty of naturally occurring antioxidants. Aim for a minimally-processed diet overall to ensure intake of more nutrient-dense foods.

    If you smoke, aim to quit smoking. There are plenty of smoking cessation resources available. You should also ensure excellent intake of antioxidant rich foods to combat the excess oxidative stress accumulated by smoking.

    Incorporate plants into your home. Some plants may help filter out air pollutants.

    When to see a doctor?

    If you have any concerns about your respiratory health, it's important to see a doctor. This is especially true if you have symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing up blood, or a chronic cough that doesn't go away. A doctor can help determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend the appropriate treatment.

    It's also a good idea to see a doctor if you have a history of respiratory issues or if you're at high risk for lung problems, such as if you smoke or you have been exposed to continuous secondhand smoke. It's important to take care of your respiratory health and to address any concerns as soon as possible.

    Key takeaways

    Supporting respiratory health involves supporting the immune system as well as reducing or preventing oxidative stress from everyday environmental exposures. Certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can be particularly beneficial for respiratory health. In addition, you can support your respiratory health by eating a diet rich in antioxidants from foods like fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and quitting or avoiding smoking and other environmental pollutants.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Our Editorial Staff
    Freelance Contributor
    The Care/of Editorial Team is made up of writers, experts, and health enthusiasts, all dedicated to giving you the information you need today. Our team is here to answer your biggest wellness questions, read the studies for you, and introduce you to your new favorite product, staying up to date on the latest research, trends, and science. Each article is written by one of our experts, reviewed both for editorial standards by an editor and medical standards by one of our naturopathic doctors, and updated regularly as new information becomes available.