A Healthy Diet for Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary Fibrosis is often the end result of another condition, like rheumatoid arthritis or exposure to harmful lung irritants such as asbestos.  It is part of a family of about 100 related diseases, and those with PF are often categorized by the root cause as opposed to the actual disease.

There is an entire class of diseases named for their cause, and all lumped under a diagnosis of hypersensitivity pneumonitis.  We refer to them as Farmer’s lung, mollusk shell lung, poultry lung, maple bark disease, and other catchy monikers.  Workers in the food industry are often exposed to dust, mold, and other irritants put off by items being prepared for our dinner table.

How ironic is it that the people who are responsible for bringing food to our dinner plates are the ones who are most likely to suffer from this condition?

One of the common symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis is dyspnea, or “air hunger”.  Your body is starved for oxygen, and the scarring in your lungs makes it increasingly harder to replace what you use.

When we mention the importance of nutrition for ensuring quick recovery from Pulmonary Fibrosis, most people are surprised. After all, the direct link between nutrition and managing Pulmonary fibrosis with dietary changes seems like an alien concept to most people.

But here’s an interesting fact. A study recent revealed an unlikely connection between idiopathic PF (IPF) patients and malnourishment. Believe it or not, nutrition plays a key role in helping your body recover. That’s why we decided to do this blog post on the significance of using nutrition as an adjuvant for your pulmonary fibrosis recovery.

Why Nutrition?

We often discount the fact that the lungs are vital for oxygenation and hence can influence how well our immune system is capable of warding off infections. That’s not all. It also affects cellular activities. If the working of your lungs is impaired, your body is forced to compensate which it does by working a little extra. Generally, this means that your cortisol levels are spiking. A state of constant stress also called the ‘fight or flight’ mode.

This mode completely alters the way your metabolism functions, the way you absorb nutrients, and the way your hormones are metabolized.

While there is no direct established cause of PF, GERD seems to be one of the conditions linked to it. GERD as well as Proton Pump Inhibitors, which are the primary treatment method for it, can cause severe nutritional deficiencies, particularly in some vitamins. It has been observed that elderly and malnourished patients may be more likely to have compromised iron, calcium, which are vitamin minerals, along with vitamin B12 & C metabolism.

How to use Nutrition as a therapy for PF?

Whenever anyone talks about food and health it eventually comes down to nutrients.  The knee-jerk reaction is to boost one’s nutrition by downing a handful of vitamins and dietary supplements.  Pills are, however, a poor substitute for eating a decent meal.

That’s why we have created this checklist for PF patients who are new to this concept and wish to build longstanding dietary habits.

  • Increase antioxidant intake

Antioxidants are nature’s superfoods that can reverse a lot of the damage that we do to our bodies with unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits. In this case, it can also help protect against free radical damage caused due to rampant cortisol spikes that can in turn be triggered due to conditions such as PF. What’s worrisome though is that our dinner plates can be filled with antioxidant rich foods. But we choose a quick fix and try to pop pills instead. Your de-facto choice should be natural antioxidants that can be sourced from food. Some options are leafy green veggies, broccoli, colorful fruits, berries primarily, but also including melon and citrus fruits, colorful veggies such as kale, tomatoes, beetroot, to name a few. Some other notable inclusions are green tea, which is crammed with antioxidants, moringa olifera leaves, and pure cocoa.

  • Increase Lean Protein Intake

When your immune system is compromised, you need to increase your intake of protein. Protein can be sourced from a variety of natural foods, both plant based and animal based. In case you wish to opt for plant based protein, your best options are tofu, soy (complete protein), and legumes. In case you wish to choose animal proteins, your options are virtually endless but some of the best ones are poultry and fish. Mass farmed meat can actually cause more damage in the long run than not consuming protein at all. So, if you do wish to go for meat based protein, look for free range meat.

  • Take your Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 Fatty Acids are a terribly underrated micro nutrient that has a plethora of benefits for the body, starting with the skin, the hair, the immune system, the brain, and lastly, the heart. Some great natural sources are flax seeds, which also provide vital dietary fiber. Hemp is a new and upcoming source that’s fast gaining traction. Animal based sources are wild caught fish like salmon, sardines.

  • Probiotics for your gut 

We often discount the importance of our gut microbiota in maintaining a healthy immune system. Moreover, many medications, as well as lifestyle habits, can throw our gut microbiome out of whack. Probiotics rich food such as Sauerkraut, Kombucha & Kefir, which are fermented food can help restore gut microbiome homeostasis and this, in turn, will help your body heal quicker from infections. If you cannot source these, look for good old Yoghurt.

  • Watch your water intake

A dehydrated body is more prone to illness than one that’s hydrated regularly. Sometimes the medications that are used to treat PH can wreak havoc with your hydration system. Moreover, nausea can make it very difficult to even gulp water on a regular basis. If that’s the case, how about swapping it with juices (freshly squeezed) or herbal tea? There are a plethora of options. Chamomile is good. So is licorice.

  • Cut down on refined food

Refined food is the bane of the modern day industrialization of our diets. They clog arteries, affect the functioning of our vital organs, and in the long run will trigger a series of metabolic problems. When your immune system is already burdened with a condition like Pulmonary Hypertension, you can reduce the load by choosing to cut down on junk food. This includes a wide range of food items that are made from refined flour or contain hydrogenated fat.

  • GERD Diet 

If you have had chronic GERD, you might want to speak to your healthcare provider about GERD diets. Bone broths are a great, natural food for GERD patients that can help plug in some of the deficiencies in minerals. Broths are also excellent for filling in electrolyte imbalances.

  • Foods that can be avoided

You want to avoid anything that triggers or worsens the symptoms of PF. This can be individualistic. But some of the common ones that do seem to worsen symptoms are arachidonic acids which are notorious for triggering asthma attacks. These are found in a wide range of foods, but shellfish is one of the most commonly consumed ones. Other than this, even egg yolk can trigger flare-ups in some people.

Dairy products can increase your mucus production and some of these can also trigger a series of respiratory problems.

Avoid simple or processed sugars as much as you normally can.

Maintaining your body weight

One of the imminent dangers of PF is that our physical activity is reduced automatically. Also, you can gain a lot of water weight. While this is anecdotal, some medications can also trigger insulin spikes which leads to unhealthy eating. The bottom line is that when you are consuming more food than you need and not exercising, you have a full stomach all the time which burdens your respiratory system even further.

Here’s a trick. Eat less. But eat more frequently. Yes, you heard that right. For your lifetime, you have tried to admonish unhealthy snacking. But if you have PF, it might be in your best interest to eat more frequently. We are not asking you to start stuffing yourself with candy and cookies, mind you. But frequent snacks of vegetables, fruits, and whole grain snacks can keep you fuller without taxing your system any further.

You should use your calories judiciously so that you can nourish your body first and ensure that you have enough energy to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Cravings should always take a backseat.

Counting calories made easy

A decade or two ago, counting calories was a complicated process that was more of educated guesses than accurate information. Besides, there was no ready access to calorie counters and mobile applications like we have today. Now you have the technology to support a healthy diet. Why not use it to maximize the effectiveness of the food you consume?

No, you don’t need to measure everything you eat either. Don’t get hung up over the numbers and stop enjoying food altogether. Food is meant to be enjoyed as well. Don’t forget that. Just remember that you need to eat as much as you burn. A competitive athlete for instance can burn almost 1100 calories in every hour purely with exercise. But if you are lying on a couch and sending a text, you are just expending 7 calories. Notice the difference? That’s what you need to understand. No, we are not implying that you spend an hour in the gym at all.

Don’t get us wrong here. You may not be able to hop on a treadmill or go for a jog with PH. But you can definitely choose to stand for longer, or walk around the house. Take the stairs when you can. Go slow and only for as long as you can without taxing your lungs.

A chronic lung condition and exercise don’t exactly go hand in hand. We understand that bit. But remaining sedentary creates a trap of sorts. A vicious cycle that slowly begins to weaken your muscles, making you more prone to injuries and fatigue. The more lethargic you are, the less likely you are to exercise. This weakens your muscles even more.

The Importance of Support Groups

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of support groups to help you live a healthy and fulfilling life. Support groups are filled with people like you who have had similar experiences. Many of them have undergone the same problems as you and have overcome those problems. This makes it a hotbed of activity. They can share ideas, concerns, and treatments and motivate you to make healthier choices too. We have seen patients with conditions like Pulmonary fibrosis and Pulmonary hypertension, who had all but given up on their lives and goals, come back to life purely with the assistance of support groups.

We understand. Sometimes, a chronic condition can just suck the life out of you. Picture support groups like that friendly person holding out a hand to lift you up. It can make life easier. In case you don’t know where to start, we have a list of five mobile applications for chronic disease management.

This works even for eating habits by the way. If you live alone and eat alone, you are more likely to pop that frozen dinner or eat out of a packet. But when you are living with a partner or have invited someone over, you are bound to make a healthy, delicious meal. So plan out your meals with friends if it helps you stay on track. If you are unable to manage the condition by yourself, which is very likely, seek assistance. Your family, friends, anyone can chime in.

Closing thoughts

Your lungs will affect the ability of your body to supply oxygen to the vital organs. When you eat a healthy diet that prioritizes lung health, you automatically start to notice reduced fatigue and shortness of breath. You don’t need to do anything out of the box either. Just a normal diet that is rich in lean protein, contains an abundance of plant-based nutrients and a lot of omega 3 fatty acids will get half the job done.

In addition to this, stay positive. Stay active. Even basic activity around the house can provide ample benefits. You don’t always have to hop into a gym or on to a treadmill to get the benefits of exercise. Stay surrounded by people who motivate you. Reach out to support groups