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Breathing is automatic, but it isn’t always easy. If you’ve ever suffered a stuffy nose or struggled to breathe deeply, you know just how strong, healthy lungs are. But when was the last time you checked in on your lungs?
Keeping your lungs healthy is as easy as getting the right nutrients. Certain natural foods and herbs can foster stronger lungs. They may even help you breathe easier. Whether you’re hoping to build powerful lungs that can power you through everyday physical activity or you simply want to breathe easier, it’s possible. And what you eat just might make a big difference.
Add these 7 natural foods and herbs into your diet, and you can begin building stronger lungs every single day.
The Scoop: Minty fresh breath is beneficial not only to those around you, but also your body. The American Cancer Society points to peppermint oil for treating ailments of the lungs. And recent research shows that the herb may help athletes breathe better. In an Iranian study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, participants who drank water spiked with peppermint essential oil had improved respiratory rates. It’s thought that the mint relaxed their bronchial muscles.
For Better Air: Add 3 to 4 drops to hot water for inhalation, which is the dosage recommended by the American Cancer Society. The amount used in the study, meanwhile, was 0.05 milliliters of peppermint oil in 500 milliliters of mineral water.
The Scoop: If just the thought of vacationing in Australia causes you to sigh deeply, there may a reason. Eucalyptus has been shown to prevent bronchitis flare-ups when combined with two other essential oils, lime and pine. That also explains why cough drops often contain eucalyptus extracts.
For Better Air: Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a bowl of boiling water (place a towel over your head to make a tent to contain steam) then close your eyes and slowly breathe in the vapors for 10 minutes. A study in the Alternative Medicine Review notes this method is effective for easing symptoms of respiratory infections, rhinitis and sinusitis thanks to the oil’s antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Vitamin D
The Scoop: People who are deficient in vitamin D may be more likely to get respiratory tract infections, according to a recent report in Vitamins & Hormones. The study authors also point to the sunshine vitamin as a possible treatment for asthma. (TRY: Mommy’s Bliss Organic Vitamin D Drops) If you’re lacking vitamin D, you may also struggle to achieve maximum oxygen consumption when you’re physically active. Getting the right amount of this key vitamin can make breathing during exercise easier. It might even help you build stronger lungs!
For Better Air: While the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board recommends getting 600 IU of vitamin D daily, the tolerable upper intake level is 4,000 IU daily. Ask your health-care provider if a supplement is right for you.
The Scoop: In a Journal of Inflammation study using guinea pigs, the harmful effects of cigarette smoke – oxidative stress, inflammation, programmed cell death (apoptosis) and lung injury – were prevented by an infusion of black tea. Like other food sources that can improve lung health, it seems to be the tea’s high antioxidant content that’s beneficial.
For Better Air: Choose black tea over black coffee as a morning warm-up or an afternoon pick-me-up.
5. Whey protein
The Scoop: Can whey guide the way to a clearer respiratory system? At least one study has reported that supplementing with whey based products can help patients with cystic fibrosis. That’s because whey increases levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that defends against damage to the lungs. (TRY: Protelicious Gourmet Whey Protein)
For Better Air: Add 10 grams whey protein isolate twice daily, the amount used in the study, to your diet.
The Scoop: An apple a day may keep lung problems at bay, a recent report out of London reveals. Researchers from St. George’s Hospital Medical School discovered that among 2,500 study participants, those who had five or more apples per week had slightly better overall lung function. Quercetin, an antioxidant found in apples, may help protect the lungs against smoke and other pollutants.
For Better Air: Pick organic apples over other fruits for a late-afternoon snack. Apples can also improve alertness.
The Scoop: Lately, the news on blues has been good, with studies linking the berries to improved heart health, sharper brains and even slimmer waistlines. Now, researchers reveal that blueberries – which pack more antioxidant punch than most other produce – may reduce the harmful effects of air pollution. In an observational study presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in 2014, scientists found that changes in heart function during heavy smog days around Boston tended to be less likely among elderly male participants who had recently eaten flavonoid-rich foods such as blueberries. (Chocolate and wine are also full of flavonoids, but contain more calories, which could counteract the benefits.) It’s suspected that flavonoids may help regulate the immune system and even “reprogram genes” to protect you against air pollution.
For Better Air: Add 3/4 cup blueberries (the amount consumed each day in the study) to Greek yogurt, smoothies and salads, or just pop them plain.
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