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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by inflammation and airway obstruction. There is no cure for COPD; the goal of treatment is to slow disease progression, improve health status, prevent exacerbation, and reduce mortality. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, so quitting is the most crucial step toward preventing or delaying disease progression.

COPD encompasses two main conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema damages the alveoli in the lungs, while chronic bronchitis is a cough that accompanies airway inflammation. COPD-related lung damage can be caused by oxidative stress, inflammation, and an imbalance in the enzymes that repair cellular damage.

Natural interventions such as vitamin D and N-acetylcysteine may help prevent COPD and improve symptoms.

What are Risk Factors for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to occupational toxins and lung irritants
  • Exposure to solid or biomass fuels (eg, coal and wood smoke)
  • Asthma
  • Genetic defect (alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency)

What are Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

  • Progressive and chronic coughing
  • Sputum production (phlegm coughed up from airways)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Wheezing or grunting respiration
  • “Barrel chest” (later stages)

What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

  • Bronchodilators such as beta-2 agonists (short- or long-acting), methylxanthines, and anticholinergics
  • Corticosteroids
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Surgery
  • Endobronchial valve (EBV)

What are Emerging Therapies for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

  • New bronchodilators
  • Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, agents that can reduce airway inflammation
  • Statins

What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Be Beneficial for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercise programs and breathing exercises
  • Nutritional support, as weight loss and muscle wasting are common
  • Eating a healthy, well-balance diet including fresh fruits and vegetables

What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in inflammatory responses and airway smooth muscle regulation. Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in smokers with COPD, and high-dose supplementation improved respiratory muscle strength and exercise capacity in COPD patients.
  • Vitamins A, C, and E. These three vitamins all have antioxidant properties. Low levels of the vitamins are linked with an increased risk of COPD and more severe symptoms.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC is a precursor to glutathione, dissolves mucus, and repairs oxidative damage. NAC treatment reduced symptoms, exacerbations, and declining lung function in COPD patients.
  • Ginseng. Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a range of respiratory symptoms. Combining ginseng with conventional treatment improved symptoms and quality of life and reduced exacerbation compared with conventional treatment alone.
  • Sulforaphane. Sulforaphane, a compound found in cruciferous vegetables, may augment the anti-inflammatory effects of corticosteroids in COPD. It can also counteract oxidative stress.
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant. A case-control study observed lower CoQ10 levels during exacerbation of COPD, indicating supplementation may be useful.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can protect against harmful inflammatory reactions. A study showed that COPD subjects receiving supplemental omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA had less shortness of breath and inflammatory markers in serum and sputum.
  • Essential amino acids. As weight loss and muscle wasting are common in COPD patients, supplementation with essential amino acids, which are central to processes that help sustain muscle mass, can be helpful. Essential amino acids, and especially whey protein as a source, may help with weight gain and physical function.
  • Other natural interventions that may help patients with COPD include Boswellia serrata, resveratrol, zinc, L-carnitine, and melatonin.