How to Reduce Inflammation in COPD
Dear Dr. Mahler:
I read in your book that inflammation is part of COPD. What does that actually mean? I am 67 years old and was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis form of COPD about 3 years ago. I quit smoking at the time, and still work selling real estate. If inflammation is bad, what can I do to get rid of it? Thanks.
Bill from Pensacola, FL
In Latin, inflammation means “set afire.” It is an important part of the body’s immune system to heal an injury or fight an infection. However, if this persists and is chronic, inflammation plays a key role in various diseases – like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, bowel disease – in addition to COPD.
Smoking cigarettes and inhaling irritants causes injury to the breathing tubes and air sacs. In response, the body calls in, or recruits, white blood cells to the area of injury. This results in redness and swelling of the area – the features of inflammation. See the figure on the right below.
If someone continues to smoke, the inflammation persists and becomes chronic. This causes swelling in the lining of the breathing tubes that narrows the opening and reduces the ability to exhale air. In addition, inflammation makes it more likely that the muscle that wraps around the breathing tubes will constrict or tighten. This is called bronchoconstriction and further reduces the flow of air out of the lungs.
Here is what you can do to try to reduce inflammatory changes in your lungs:
Photo on right shows acute bronchitis with yellow mucus inside the airway along with redness and swelling of the wall.
I hope that this information answers your question.
Donald A. Mahler, M.D.
- Don’t smoke. It is great that you already quit.
- Avoid inhaling irritants in the air like smog, dust, smoke, fumes, fibers, soot, etc.
- Eat healthy foods that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains,
beans, nuts, olive oil, and fish especially salmon – that have anti-inflammatory effects. Blueberries are the BEST.
- Consider spices – such as ginger root, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and tumeric – which may provide anti-inflammatory benefits. More research is needed to know whether these and other spices help with inflammation in COPD.
- Get enough sleep. Studies show that when healthy individuals are sleep deprived, there is an increase of inflammation in the body. How this happens is unclear.
- Try to exercise at least 3 – 4 times a week.
- For a treat, eat dark chocolate which is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins.