We all have seen the packet of cigarettes and the warnings printed on them. The legislations require the companies to put health warnings on all smoked as well as chewed tobacco products.
It will be good to make this clear that this article is not about tobacco products or warnings attached to them. Still, the apparent question is what “health” are these warning signs talking about?
Apart from many other problems and diseases these warnings are indicating towards, the main organ which gets affected most are our lungs.
Breathe in and breathe out – Why lungs are so important
For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. – Sanskrit Proverb
The five vital organs which are considered essential for human survival are brain, heart, kidneys, liver and lungs. However, like so many parts of our body we may not appreciate the importance of lungs until we cannot breathe well.
Dr. Luke has explained how our lungs work in a very simplistic manner; “the human lungs are mostly just filled with air. There are big pipes, which take air from outside to the inside of the lungs. The pipes go from the size a little larger than your finger to a size so small you need a microscope to see them. It is at the very end of these pipes there are very small spaces we cannot see with our eyes where all the work is done.”
“At this place the body does a remarkable but simple process. The body exchanges oxygen for a waste product from the body called carbon dioxide. The oxygen comes from the air we breathe. Inside the lungs in these very tiny spaces, the body exchanges these two gases for each other. The lungs take the oxygen from the air and put it into the blood stream. The blood streams in our bodies take the oxygen to the rest of our body. The oxygen goes to our heart, brain, liver, kidney, and legs and in fact to every part of the body. The rest of the body needs the oxygen to function.”
The above Sanskrit adage is probably trying to emphasize why taking care of lungs is so essential.
Bioterrorism and Respiratory diseases – Risk of Uncertainty
Bioterrorism has existed for centuries, from ancient Mesopotamia to current times. Early philosophers and writers acknowledged an important influence of air. Hippocrates (400 B.C.) believed that air, along with water and places, influenced health. Some 600 years later, Galen noted that one should consider the air that we breathe when many sicken and die at once. (American Journal of Epidemiology)
The lung’s range of response to injury is limited and it is a target for all compounds that can be dispersed as gases or aerosols. Inhalation of many chemical warfare agents (CWAs) and biological toxins can induce severe pulmonary toxicity leading to the development of acute lung injury (ALI) as well as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The therapeutic options currently used to treat these conditions are very limited and mortality rates remain high.
We are still seeing the mayhem created by current Covid-19 pandemic worldwide. This is certainly not the first and last in the series of dangerous diseases that world has witnessed so far. Unless a disease is characterized as an epidemic or pandemic they get largely ignored, however, every year they kill many more people than wars or military conflicts.
The big question which still looms largely on our heads is that are we prepared enough for such unpredictable knocks of life? We have downplayed basic ingredients of quality life such as discipline, exercise, diet and nutrition; sleep, etc. so badly that our immunity and strength are gone for toss. However, the old adage of “survival of the fittest” still hold true and will remain so in the time to come.
Apart from the unforeseen and unpredictable factors, globally, at least 2 billion people are exposed to the toxic smoke of biomass fuel, typically burned inefficiently in poorly ventilated indoor stoves or fireplaces. One billion people inhale polluted outdoor air, and 1 billion are exposed to tobacco smoke. (Courtesy: WHO)
Cigarette smoking is by far the leading risk factor for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
As per WHO, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year around the world. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use worldwide.
How to strengthen lungs – Tips to improve lungs capacity
According to American Lung Association, our lungs mature by the age of 20-25 years. After the age of 35 years the aging process sets in and the lung functions start to decline gradually. Sedentary lifestyle can further perpetuate the process of decline, since it results in the loss of muscle tone and endurance, both of which can be reflected in the decline in the capacity of breathing.
The year 2020 has made all of us aware, through novel coronavirus, that how certain respiratory viruses can cause serious damage to not just human life but also to socio-economic structure of a nation. In reality the respiratory illnesses have been with us for a very long time and are a major health burden and leading causes of death worldwide.
We take our breathing and respiratory health for granted but lung is a very vital organ. I am, hereby, sharing few simple tips that will ensure good health of our lungs.
- Exercises – A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, where researchers have found that covid patients who regularly exercised before becoming sick were least likely to be hospitalized, admitted to ICU and die as a result of their illness, cannot more emphasize upon the importance of exercising regularly.
Activities like strength training and cardiovascular exercises can help people to get most out of their lungs. Aerobic activity helps in eliminating carbon dioxide from the body and strength training helps in building thoracic cage muscles and core strength, which are important in breathing.
- Quit smoking – As per physician Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, “both cigarette smoking and vaping are linked to lung inflammation and lowered immune function in the lung’s airways”. Smoking also destroys lung tissue, narrows air passages and is a major cause of cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, Rizzo says.
According American Lung Association, carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to the normal levels just 12 hours after quitting smoking and after a mere two weeks lung functions start to improve. As per Rizzo, a decade after quitting smoking the risks of specific cancers such as bladder and lung are halved.
- Yoga and Pranayama – Various studies have found that regular practice of yoga can prevent and cure respiratory illness.
A vital scientific and therapeutic aspect of yoga is Pranayama. Few exercises of pranayama like Anulomaviloma, Kapalbhati, Bhramari are the best remedies which can be help to tackle respiratory illness caused by air pollution and other naturally occurring respiratory diseases.
In Kapalbhati – there occurs full use of diaphragm and abdominal muscles for breathing. It helps in removal of secretions from bronchial tree and helps in clearing up respiratory passages. In Nadi Shodhan pranayama, due to efficient use of abdominal and diaphragmatic muscles the respiratory apparatus gets emptied and filled more completely and efficiently.
- Diet and nutrition – Eating a balanced diet is essential for keeping lungs healthy. There is considerable evidence to suggest that a higher intake of fruits and vegetables is favorable for all life stages of asthma and evidences are emerging to suggest the same for COPD. (Courtesy: NCBI)
The dietary patterns associated with benefits in respiratory diseases include high fruit and vegetable intake, Mediterranean style diet, fish and omega-3 intake, while fast food intake and westernized dietary patterns have adverse associations. The figure below shows a diagrammatic representation of the relationships of nutrition and obstructive lung diseases. (Courtesy: NCBI)
Certain other precautionary measures that can be taken include:
- Avoid going out, unless absolutely necessary, when the air pollution is at its peak.
- Mask yourself when stepping out.
- Keep your home well ventilated.
- Avoid synthetic air fresheners and candles that can expose you to chemicals.
- Get yourself vaccinated against any infection.
- Maintain proper hygiene by developing a habit of regularly washing hands.
- Avoid touching face as much as possible.
- Drink plenty of water.