Dietary supplements can play an important role in some high-risk groups, particularly those that are not able to eat a healthy balanced diet or those that have increased need for certain nutrients due to their disease condition. Supplements can help support normal functioning of the body, boost immunity, help fight inflammation, and promote tissue repair.
Vitamins are among some of the most beneficial supplements available for pulmonary fibrosis patients. Below are examples of some vitamins, including A, C, D, and E, as well as their benefits, research surrounding them, and food sources.
(i) Vitamin A is critical when it comes to maintaining the functioning of your immune system, and may be helpful for individuals who have pulmonary fibrosis. Further, Vitamin A allows for your cells to grow and mature, meaning that getting enough of this vitamin through food or supplements can help the body initiate its natural repair process, specifically in the lungs. However, it is important to not overdose on the vitamin, as this could pose a stress on the body.
Food Sources of Vitamin A: dairy products, liver, fish, and fortified cereals, carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, and squash
(ii) Vitamin C plays a significant role in many of the body’s processes; most importantly, it acts as an antioxidant, which is a function that is especially beneficial for the lungs. Oftentimes, those who have pulmonary fibrosis and/or other chronic lung conditions, have extended lung damage caused by free radicals and toxins. How can Vitamin C help? It actually has properties that allow for the body to fight against these free radicals and toxins, thus allowing the body to flush them out. In one study, men and women with diets high in vitamin C were found to have greater lung capacity. Vitamin C supplementation may be especially important for smokers, as smoking has been found to reduce Vitamin C content in your body.
Food Sources of Vitamin C: plums, cherries, citrus fruits including oranges, guava, thyme, parsley, kale, and spinach
(iii) Vitamin D. Epidemiologic studies have suggested a link between Vitamin D deficiency and risk for developing chronic lung diseases. A Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked with more severe symptoms as well as higher mortality rates in people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Further, animal studies have also shown that Vitamin D has the potential to partially prevent the onset of lung fibrosis to begin with. The research, “Vitamin D prevents experimental lung fibrosis and predicts survival in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis,” was published in the Pulmonary Pharmacology & Therapeutics Journal. Some other benefits associated with Vitamin D include the regulation of calcium and phosphate in the body, being protective over cells and having both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.. Given that research has shown pulmonary fibrosis patients are potentially at a higher risk for being Vitamin D deficient, it may be beneficial to add a Vitamin D supplement to their treatment regimen. Researchers continue to explore the therapeutic potential of adding Vitamin D to PF patients’ care plans.
Food Sources of Vitamin D: fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese, and soy milk
(iv) Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that protects against free radicals and toxins in the body, including in the lungs, thus reducing inflammation. It also boosts the immune system, thus helping fight off infections and keeping the body healthy. One study showed that people with diets high in Vitamin E had less phlegm.
Food Sources of Vitamin E: green leafy vegetables, avocado, vegetable oil, sunflower seeds, and nuts (i.e. almonds and peanuts)
It is important to stay within the range recommended for each supplement to reap the benefits and avoid harmful effects. Taking excess doses of some vitamins beyond what is recommended can also overload your kidneys that have to work extra hard to eliminate what is not needed.
- Probiotics and Prebiotics:
Microbiota is a community of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and viruses that live in certain parts of our body and affect normal inflammatory and immune responses – they are essentially different groups of microorganisms all throughout our bodies that serve different functions in order to keep us healthy. Each individual has a unique microbiota that plays a role in nutrient metabolism, maintenance of cell and tissue structure and protection against disease causing microorganisms.
Probiotics and prebiotics both have a large impact on our microbiota. While they may sound similar, these supplements play different roles in the digestive system. Probiotics are essentially microorganisms that provide health benefits for our bodies and are commonly found in foods that are fermented, such as yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir etc.; supplements are also available for those who prefer them. On the other hand, prebiotics are basically the non-digestible part of foods such as bananas, onions, and garlic (among many others) and help the growth of “good” bacteria that exists within our bodies to continue to exist. Another great source of prebiotics is dietary fiber.
As pulmonary fibrosis research continues to grow, researchers have been learning about microbiota in the lung and how it connects to the microbiota in the gut, a term that experts refer to as “cross-talk.” Because of this, researchers believe that what we eat and drink could influence our lungs; this is why preliminary research has been focused on how probiotics and prebiotics could be used to potentially treat lung disease. Newly established research has indicated that incorporating pro- and prebiotics show promise in helping improve lung diseases and infections. A study conducted in Italy in 2014 and published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition actually found that children and adults with mild to moderate fibrosis who were given drops of a lactobacillus probiotic for six months ended up experiencing fewer disease flare-ups and upper respiratory tract infections when compared with those who did not.
However, it is important to note that there is still a lot of research to be done on the impacts and benefits of incorporating pre- and probiotics as a method for improving symptoms associated with pulmonary fibrosis or even potentially serving as a future cure.
Products made from plants that are used to treat diseases or maintain health are called herbal supplements. Traditionally, herbal medicines have been used for the prevention and treatment of various diseases. They are available as pills, capsules, powers, teas, ointments and oils.
(i) Turmeric is an ancient herb that has been used for centuries in various parts of the world for both edible and medicinal purposes. Curcumin, which is an antioxidant found in turmeric, has been shown to effectively help reduce lung inflammation. It acts by reducing chemicals in the body involved in inflammation, and was shown to prevent fibrosis in animal experiments. Turmeric can be easily incorporated into a daily diet by adding to curries, soups, smoothies etc. or even taken orally as a supplement.
(ii) Studies have shown that licorice extract is also anti-inflammatory and has the ability to decrease the expression of certain genes that are associated with fibrosis that negatively impact the health of lung tissue. It also relieves symptoms of acid reflux which is an added benefit, since a large percentage of people with pulmonary fibrosis also suffer from gastric esophageal reflux disease (GERD).
(iii) Ginseng is another herb that demonstrates the ability to help relieve the fatigue associated with pulmonary fibrosis and other chronic lung conditions. Ginseng has also been recognized for its benefits in improving the immune system, providing an energy boost, reducing stress, and promoting relaxation.
(iv) Oregano is an antiseptic herb that has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It can be used as a cure for common infections, but is also especially helpful in helping to heal the lungs due to its ability to fight inflammation and clear the bronchial passages and airways. Oregano is a common herb used in many cuisines.
(v) Chinese herbs have been used for many years to treat a variety of ailments, including those affecting the lungs. Some of the most commonly used herbs include astragalus, which helps to boost the immune system, Nan Sha Shen (also known as the American silvertop root) which acts as an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and helps clear phlegm in the lungs, and Poria, which has diuretic effects, may reduce production of phlegm, and may help individuals who are struggling with rest due to their symptoms to be able to sleep better.
People have reported remarkable benefits in terms of their symptoms and lung health after taking herbal supplements. However, herbal supplements can have strong effects and can interact with conventional medicines. They are also not standardized or closely regulated by the FDA or other governing agencies. You must consult with your doctor before adding herbal supplements to your regimen.
The use of essential oils is a great option available for patients with pulmonary fibrosis who are considering using natural supplements as a way to better manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. These oils are basically extracts that are taken from parts of plants, flowers, and fruits and have strong therapeutic qualities. Below are some essential oil suggestions, based on individual symptoms as experienced by PF patients.
For pain: Lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, ginger or black pepper.
For stress: Bergamot, grapefruit, sandalwood, tangerine or jasmine.
For headaches: Lavender, peppermint, marjoram or Roman chamomile.
For a sense of well-being: Frankincense, lavender, rose, mandarin, neroli or helichrysum.
For sleep: Lavender, neroli, jasmine, marjoram or Roman chamomile.
Below is also a list of different oils, both oral and/or topical, along with their relative lung and health benefits:
(i) Cod liver oil
Cod liver oil contains fatty acids and can improve lung health. It contains Vitamin D and has been shown to reduce lung inflammation, as well as minimize the symptoms of pulmonary fibroids. A common dose for liquid cod liver oil is 1-2 teaspoons per day, but it can also be taken in capsule form.
Eucalyptus has many benefits, including its ability to act as a decongestant and expectorant, in addition to providing some level of pain relief, and even strengthening the immune system. Eucalyptus oil can be used either topically as a diluted oil or as an ingredient in creams; it can also be used as an inhalant by adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil or a handful of leaves to hot water or a vaporizer and deeply inhale the steam vapor for five to 10 minutes (please be careful to not burn yourself), or you can even use a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a warm bath or shower.
Lavender is another oil that is beneficial to those with preexisting lung conditions because it acts as an antioxidant and helps the body fight off disease progression; it is also known for its ability to lower rates of stress hormones, which helps in symptom management. A common way to use lavender oil is by combining it with either jojoba or sweet almond oil and massaging into the skin or adding to a warm bath. Lavender oil can also be used in an aromatherapy vaporizer or even added to a cloth or tissue and inhaled.
Bergamot is another essential oil that can help with pulmonary patients’ symptoms because it is antibacterial and antifungal, both of which help protect the body and keep it healthy. A unique property of bergamot is its ability to reduce negative feelings as well as fatigue; having a more positive mindset has been shown to positively impact chronic symptoms as well. Bergamot oil can be added to a cloth or tissue and inhaled, added to a warm bath, or used in an aromatherapy vaporizer. Please do not inhale this oil directly from its bottle and only use a few drops at a time.
Many of these essential oils can be found in various forms, including as topical oils or capsules, at supermarkets such as Whole Foods or Sprouts. Online carriers such as Amazon also often have these oils available for purchase.
It is important to remember that supplements are not “one size fits all.” Please always consult with your doctor or healthcare professional prior to incorporating new therapies and/or making any significant changes in your health/lifestyle habits.