Question: My husband (a smoker for 35 years, but two years without smoking now) has been diagnosed with COPD and emphysema. He recently had surgery (a bullectomy), to remove a very large bleb from his right lung. Breathing has improved only slightly (six weeks later) but doctors say it will take some months to judge; and because it’s a progressive disease, there may not be improvement at all. So we wait. Meanwhile, is there some sort of diet to follow, a supplement or medicine he could take to help repair some of the lung damage, to alleviate or ease his difficulty breathing when he exerts himself?
Answer: It is common knowledge that regular long-term cigarette use can lead to destruction of the lung tissue; COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the term applied to the condition that used to be called emphysema. What is not so common knowledge about this situation is the fact that many countries have had high rates of cigarette use, but far less lung cancer and COPD. One factor may be the toxic additives put into the cigarettes in this country, but a more important, and often overlooked, factor is the influence of diet on the progression of COPD.
The tissues that are injured in COPD are the alveoli, which are akin to small soap bubbles. These alveoli make up the bulk of the lung and are the sites where the gases are exchanged. They are thin, often only one layer of cells thick, a property that makes the diffusion of gases from the inside of the lungs into and out of the blood vessels that surround these alveoli an easy process. COPD is the process of the progressive destruction of these alveoli. Eventually, there are no longer very tiny bubbles, because as the walls break the bubbles coalesce, making them bigger. This bigger bubble is called a “bleb.” This results in less surface area so the exchange of gases is less efficient. Clearly, one goal of therapy is to try to create the healthiest, most pliable alveoli possible.
Anyone who as a child made little soap bubbles through plastic rings knows that the integrity of the bubbles is dependent on the mixture of the soap in the bottle. Too little soap and the bubbles don’t hold together, too much and the bubbles don’t form. Our alveoli are similar. They are also made from a kind of soap called surfactant, which in its proper form creates elastic, flexible alveoli. Surfactant, like any bubble, is a fat, or more specifically a lipid envelope. The integrity of the alveoli has everything to do with the type of fat in our blood, from which it is made.
Specifically the research has shown that if the blood contains high amounts of trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils in shortening and margarine, the bubbles will be too stiff and therefore prone to rupture. When the alveoli are made from fats that are highly polyunsaturated fatty acids (mostly from liquid vegetable oils), the alveoli will be too flexible and therefore weak. These findings exactly correlate with epidemiology studies showing that when cultures exchange their traditional fats for the new modern processed foods, then smoking begins to produce epidemics of illness that were not seen in traditional native cultures which use tobacco quite liberally.
The best fats for building healthy alveoli are the mostly saturated fats found in traditional animal foods (butter, lard, etc.) and in tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oil. When treating COPD these are the only fats I allow in the diet, with the exception of 1 tablespoon olive oil per day. A nourishing traditional diet with liberal use of good fats and the fermented foods that help with fat digestion provides the perfect foundation in any program for the recovery from COPD.
A particular food worth mentioning for COPD is beet roots and leaves, because these are a rich source of betaine. (It is also a component of any dark green leafy vegetable.) Betaine seems to help with digestion, particularly of fats, which therefore allows them to be available to be used by the body to “make” alveoli.
There are also a number of supplements that can help with COPD. Standard Process makes a preparation called Emphaplex which contains the nutrients, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins, your body uses to make alveoli and clear out the mucus, an important goal in any treatment of COPD. The dose of Emphaplex is 1-2 capsules, three times per day. Then I use Cataplex E2, a special preparation of vitamin E, a fat-soluble nutrient that specifically is involved with the integrity
of the lung tissue and alveoli. The dose is 2 tablets, three times per day. The next medicine is Pulmaco, a combination of herbs from Mediherb, which helps with expectoration and helps prevent the infections that plague patients with COPD. Expectoration of the mucus is crucial because as the mucus collects in the stiff alveoli, this further inhibits gas exchange. Finally, I use the Chinese medicinal mushroom Coriolus versicolor, the mushroom of immortality, which is the main Chinese medicine for restoring the integrity of the breathing. This product is available from Mediherb.
As always, cod liver oil should be included as part of the treatment. Take 1-2 teaspoons high-vitamin cod liver oil, available from Radiant Life.
With this diet and medicine, the breathing should stabilize and over time some lost function can be regained.This article appeared in the Fourfold Healing Newsletter, Feb/Mar 2005, http://www.fourfoldhealing.com.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2005.