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Breathing Easy: Top Ways To Improve Lung Capacity and Balance Histamine Naturally

Breathing Easy: Top Ways To Improve Lung Capacity and Balance Histamine Naturally

From springtime sniffling to the dreaded winter illness season, many of us experience disruptions to our breathing year round—and others have chronic lung conditions that constantly make it harder to breathe.

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to support your lung and respiratory health, helping to fight off bacterial and viral infections, increase lung capacity, and reduce histamine levels during pollen season. No matter what season it is, breathe easier with lifestyle changes and supplements like vitamins C and D, NAC, ginseng, curcumin, quercetin, and more. 

How Do the Lungs Change With Age?

Lung capacity is the total amount of air that your lungs can hold after inhaling your biggest breath. The average lung capacity in healthy adults is 6 liters—but both lung capacity and lung function decrease as we age, even as early as our mid-30s. Other people have lung- or respiratory-related conditions that rapidly accelerate the loss of lung capacity, leading to shortness of breath at earlier ages. 

There are many reasons why lung capacity declines with age. First, your diaphragm—the muscle separating your chest cavity from the abdominal cavity—gets weaker, which causes shortness of breath because this muscle helps your lungs expand and contract. Rib bones also become thinner, making it more difficult for full expansion of your lungs. We also experience structural changes to lung tissue and alveoli—the small sacs inside our lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. On a cellular level, the lungs—like all organs—are also prone to oxidative stress with age. This imbalance of antioxidants and oxidative molecules causes damage to cells in the lungs and is often caused by environmental exposures, like air pollution. 

On the plus side, unlike many other organs, you can actually feel the effects of your lungs working. You can immediately feel your diaphragm helping your lungs to expand to pull in air and then contract—but, for example, you cannot tell when your kidneys are filtering blood or when your stomach is converting proteins into amino acids. Therefore, it’s also easier to know when things are improving—if you keep an eye on how deeply or strongly you’re able to breathe, you can tell which interventions are working for you. 

How Do the Lungs Change With Age?

How To Improve Lung Capacity With Lifestyle Changes 

  • Breathing exercises: Just like we exercise our biceps and quads to build arm and leg muscles, we use breath to strengthen our diaphragm muscle. One of the best breathing exercises is called diaphragmatic breathing or “belly breathing,” which engages the diaphragm. To belly breathe, inhale through your nose for 2 seconds, feeling your stomach (not your chest or shoulders) expand from the air. Then breathe out for 2 seconds through pursed lips while pressing on your abdomen, feeling the air leave your stomach. 
  • No smoking: It is well-known that smoking affects lung health. If you currently smoke, now is the time to stop—and keep in mind that secondhand smoke can also decrease lung capacity. 
  • Minimize exposure to environmental pollutants: While you can’t always control where you live, keep an eye on the daily Air Quality Index (AQI) in your area, and try to only go outside if the AQI is in the green zone. You can also improve your indoor air quality by using HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) air filters or purifiers. Not only can air filters help to remove environmental pollutants, but also pollen, dust, pet hair, and other airborne allergens that can irritate the lungs. 
  • Exercise: Regular and moderate aerobic exercise can increase lung capacity over time. Although in the short-term, exercising feels like it worsens breathing (like when you feel out of breath), regular physical activity makes your muscles—including your diaphragm and heart—more efficient. When you exercise, your lungs and heart bring oxygen into the body and deliver it to the muscles being used, which improves circulation and strengthens the tissue around your lungs. 
  • Dietary vitamin A: Healthy vitamin A levels are associated with improved lung health, as vitamin A is necessary for formation of the alveoli and lung tissue maintenance and regeneration. However, supplemental vitamin A has been shown in studies to worsen respiratory outcomes, so we want to get it from food. The best sources of vitamin A are in the form of retinol, which includes liver, milk, fish oil, and eggs. Carrots, broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, and other green or orange fruits and vegetables are high in the precursor to vitamin A called beta-carotene, which is still beneficial but needs to be converted into retinol first. 

8 Supplements To Support Lung Health

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known for its anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting activity. It supports the epithelial barrier of the lungs, which is important to prevent viral or bacterial infections. Research shows that vitamin D supports lung health by maintaining a strong physical barrier between pathogens and the respiratory system and modulating both innate and adaptive immunity. 

We also know that vitamin D produces antimicrobial peptides, which fight pathogens, lower viral replication rates, and reduce the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines that damage the lungs. 

In a randomized controlled trial published in Nutrients, a high-dose vitamin D supplement (200,000 IU to start, followed by a monthly 100,000 IU dose for one year) significantly improved the lung function of previous smokers and those with chronic respiratory conditions. However, healthy adults did not see any additional benefits. 

Other research has found that adults aged 45 to 69 who had low vitamin D levels were more likely to experience chest tightness, wheezing, or chronic respiratory conditions. Conversely, adults with higher vitamin D levels had greater lung function.

2. Vitamin C

Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant in the body, scavenging for free radicals and reducing oxidative stress. As the lungs continuously have to deal with various environmental pollutants that are breathed in, the antioxidant function of vitamin C can help reduce this burden. 

Vitamin C also protects pathogens from disrupting the epithelial barrier of several organs, including the lungs. In a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, over 19,000 adults were followed for an average of 16 years. During that time, people with the lowest plasma levels of vitamin C were most likely to develop chronic respiratory diseases. 

Research has also shown that a single infusion of vitamin C increased the ventilatory response in patients with smoking-related severe respiratory conditions. A lower ventilatory response is linked to dysfunctions in the body’s acid-base balance, creating breathing disturbances.

3. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)

NAC is the supplemental form of the amino acid cysteine, which forms and replenishes levels of our master antioxidant, glutathione. NAC also works directly as an antioxidant by scavenging for free radicals and reducing oxidative damage. It may prevent or reduce symptoms of various respiratory conditions, including inhibiting seasonal viruses due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in the lungs. 

A meta-analysis of 13 studies involving patients with chronic respiratory conditions found that supplemental NAC was linked to significantly fewer exacerbations of their illnesses. NAC has also been studied for its role in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress related to respiratory diseases, which could improve overall lung capacity and function.

4. Ginseng

The two main families of the ginseng plant are Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). These plants contain bioactive compounds called ginsenosides that are linked to immune system and inflammation support. 

In one clinical trial, older adults who supplemented with American ginseng for four months had significantly fewer episodes of acute respiratory infections (ARI). While 32% of the ginseng group reported ARIs during the study, 62% of those in the placebo group were infected. Plus, the duration of symptoms in people taking ginseng was less than half that of the control group (5.6 days versus 12.6 days).

5. Cordyceps

Although you may know it best as the parasitic fungus that wreaked zombie havoc in the show The Last of Us, cordyceps is actually a highly beneficial functional mushroom for immune support. Recent research has indicated that cordyceps mushrooms support the immune system by reducing inflammation and oxidative damage. 

In a review from 2019, researchers compiled data from 15 studies in people with chronic respiratory conditions. They concluded that supplementation with Cordyceps sinensis improved lung function, exercise endurance, quality of life, and symptoms in people with moderate to severe stages of these respiratory disorders.

6. Chinese skullcap

Also known as Baikal skullcap or Huang Qin, Chinese skullcap exhibits antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties that modulate the immune response. There are dozens of bioactive compounds in Chinese skullcap, however, the flavones baicalin and baicalein provide the majority of its health benefits. 

In research on mice with lung disorders, baicalin improved lung function, reduced inflammatory cell infiltration, and increased lung cell viability. However, the available research on Chinese skullcap and lung health is still lacking in humans.

7. Curcumin

Curcumin, the yellow-hued compound found in turmeric, has been used for millennia in traditional practices. In the respiratory system, curcumin may benefit the lungs by supporting healthier inflammatory responses, scavenging for free radicals, and supporting immune cells. 

In a study with rats, curcumin supplementation alleviated inflammation and inhibited endoplasmic reticulum stress, which is a common factor in the progression of lung diseases. Curcumin also activated the sirtuin SIRT1 and promoted autophagy, both of which are beneficial processes for health and longevity.

8. Saffron 

Lastly, saffron (Crocus sativus) is a vivid crimson spice that has many health benefits, including providing potent antioxidant activity. The three major bioactive compounds responsible for the benefits of saffron are crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal. 

Research in adults with pulmonary disorders found that those who supplemented with saffron-derived crocin for 12 weeks had reduced levels of oxidative and inflammatory markers with increased total antioxidant capacity. The people who took crocin also had improvements in exercise capacity, as measured by a 6-minute walking distance test. 

Another study found that saffron benefited adults of all ages with a lung disease affecting the airways. Those who took saffron supplements for eight weeks had significant improvements in inflammation and spirometry tests—a measure of pulmonary function that tests how much (and how fast) you can breathe air in and out of your lungs. 

8 Ways to Balance Histamine Levels Naturally

8 Ways to Balance Histamine Levels Naturally 

When the seasons change, many people overreact to airborne particles in the environment, creating an inflammatory immune response that causes sniffles, sneezing, itchy eyes, and more. When we’re exposed to pollen, ragweed, dust mites, mold, or mildew, the body overproduces the chemical histamine, causing these uncomfortable symptoms. 

While over-the-counter medications are commonly consumed to reduce histamine levels, there are also plenty of natural lifestyle changes or supplements that can help to reduce these symptoms during pollen season, including:  

  • Hydration: Surprisingly, dehydration can lead to worsened symptoms during pollen season. Drinking plenty of water can help to flush out histamine naturally. 
  • Sinus or Nasal Rinses: A neti pot or saline irrigator can relieve nasal congestion and allow for easier breathing. These systems stream saltwater into your nasal cavities through one nostril and out the other. Although it can be an uncomfortable task, many people find that nasal irrigation alleviates pain and discomfort after completion. To safely use a neti pot, you must ensure that your water is sterile by boiling it first. 
  • Keeping Your Home and Air Clean: Pollutants from both inside and outside can significantly affect sneezing, itchy eyes, and more, and indoor air filters can help to remove them. Many people suffer from seasonal symptoms from their home heating/cooling systems, as dust mites can release from the air vents. Cleaning air vents and filters can keep allergens from becoming airborne in your home, and HEPA filters and dehumidifiers can further reduce the allergen load. As dust mites cannot live in humidity below 50%, a dehumidifier can help to keep them away. In addition to keeping your home’s surfaces clean, be sure to wash pillows, pillowcases, and bedding weekly in hot water over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. If your symptoms are severe, try covering your mattress and pillows in dust-proof covers, also known as allergen-impermeable covers. 
  • Local Honey: It’s thought that consuming local raw honey may help to alleviate seasonal symptoms. This theory is based on the idea that local honey contains pollen from your area, and exposing your body to local pollen may lessen your sensitivity to it. Although there is not conclusive research in this area, there are not many downsides to having a spoonful of raw honey a day, as it is rich in antioxidants and antimicrobial properties. 
  • Quercetin: Quercetin is an antioxidant that is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, including onions, apples, and broccoli. In addition to its antioxidant properties, quercetin inhibits histamine and downregulates inflammatory cells and cytokines, which can relieve some of the pain or pressure associated with seasonal symptoms. Although you can get quercetin from foods, supplements contain higher amounts—typically between 500-1,000mg—to better help with these issues. 
  • Bromelain: Found in pineapple, bromelain is an enzyme that reduces swelling and functions as a natural antihistamine. Research with mice shows that bromelain has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce seasonal symptoms and airway disease. You can take a quercetin-bromelain complex to further balance histamine levels.
  • Probiotics: The health of your gut microbiome can affect whether or not you get seasonal sniffles, as it’s tightly involved with your immune system. Certain beneficial gut bacteria like Lactobacillus suppress these responses by inhibiting T-helper 2 cells (Th2). People with overactive Th2 reactions are significantly more likely to be sensitive to seasonal airborne molecules. Probiotics can also stimulate local immunoglobulin-A (IgA) production, an antibody that serves as the first line of defense in the gut by trapping foreign pathogens in its mucus. Research has found that people sensitive to grass pollen who took the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei for five weeks had significant decreases in the Rhinitis Quality of Life global score, a subjective measure of these symptoms.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Supporting lung health is important to fight pathogens, viruses, seasonal sniffles and itchy eyes, and illnesses year round—and to increase overall lung capacity for healthy respiratory function as we age. 
  • Supplements that may support lung health include vitamins C and D, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), ginseng, Chinese skullcap, cordyceps, saffron, and curcumin. 
  • Lifestyle habits that support respiratory health are breathing exercises, dietary vitamin A, not smoking, minimizing exposure to pollutants, and maintaining a regular aerobic exercise routine. 
  • Reduce sensitivity to seasonal airborne molecules by staying hydrated, using nasal rinses, filtering your indoor air, and taking local honey, quercetin, bromelain, or probiotics. 


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