Posted on June 26, 2023 by Austin Lang
Posted on June 26, 2023 by Austin Lang
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) affects over 16 million Americans, many of them seniors. As the name implies, COPD is characterized by an obstruction of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. What you might not realize, however, is the connection between COPD and diet which can play a major role in symptom management.
You see, while there is no way to reverse the damage caused by COPD, a proper diet plan can help make symptoms that much more manageable. However, in order to understand how, we need to understand the link between respiration and digestion, and how COPD disrupts that process.
The human body has three main systems associated with managing the intake and output of material: digestion, respiration, and excretion.
These systems work together to facilitate the complex chemical reactions that allow us to live. Countless reactions in the body rely on combining oxygen with the nutrients we consume in order to create new proteins, store and release energy, and perform any number of other bodily functions. Similarly, the carbon dioxide (CO2) we exhale is as much a product of what we eat as it is what we inhale. That carbon has to come from somewhere, after all.
Counterintuitively, one of the biggest problems caused by COPD isn’t breathing in, but breathing out. CO2, as a waste product, becomes toxic to the body if allowed to build up. This results in a condition called hypercapnia, leading to symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and confusion. Needless to say, this isn’t good. However, we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we produce with changes to our diet.
Astute readers have already noticed the link between carbon dioxide and carbohydrates: that ubiquitous element that serves as the foundation for all life on Earth, carbon. Carbohydrates are molecules consisting of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms in various combinations. When we consume carbohydrates, we break them down into their base components for energy. This reaction results in carbon dioxide, which is exhaled back into the atmosphere, and eventually consumed by plants and turned back into carbohydrates and oxygen. Therefore, the more carbohydrates you consume, the more carbon dioxide you produce.
Of course, you can’t not consume carbohydrates. While studies have shown that a ketogenic diet can lead to improvements in COPD symptoms, you still need to meet your nutritional needs. This is especially true with COPD, as it kicks your metabolism into overdrive. To put it in perspective, a person with COPD can use over 700 calories per day just to breathe. In comparison, a healthy person uses only 100. This means that person with COPD is expending the same amount of energy breathing as a healthy person would spend on an intense workout. You’re going to need those carbs.
However, you can be smart about what carbs you consume. Complex carbohydrates, like those found in bran, oats, quinoa, and barley, have more nutritional value than those found in simple sugars and starches. A solid COPD diet plan will focus on protein and healthy fat, with carbohydrates in the form of healthy grains, fruits, and vegetables. As always, fried foods, simple carbohydrates, and other forms of junk food should be avoided in any diet for COPD patients.
Of course, nutrition isn’t the only factor at play here.
Even without complex chemical reactions at play, what you eat can play a major role in your ability to breathe. Here’s an example: ever felt so bloated that it seemed difficult to breathe? Abdominal bloating can cause the stomach to press against the diaphragm, making it difficult for the lungs to fully expand. For people who already have obstructed breathing, this can be a big problem. Even if you’re eating the best diet for COPD, it won’t do much if you’re stuffing yourself to the point of breathlessness!
Doctors recommend splitting your food intake into smaller meals, roughly five a day, to reduce the risk of bloating. You should also avoid foods that make you gassy, like carbonated drinks. Some otherwise healthy foods, like kale and broccoli, can also cause bloating, so be mindful of your response to them.
Mucus also plays a large role in COPD, as phlegm is one of the main causes of obstruction in the lungs. Conventional wisdom says that avoiding dairy products like milk and cheese can reduce phlegm production, but this is a misconception. The “phlegmy” feeling in your throat after you drink milk is due to fats in the milk, not increased mucus production. So, if you don’t have issues with lactose intolerance (which can cause the aforementioned bloating) consuming dairy in moderation is fine. However, you should still drink plenty of water, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Dehydration, which can be exacerbated by alcohol and caffeine consumption, results in thicker phlegm and worsened symptoms, so be sure to follow our tips on how to stay hydrated!
To put it all together, here’s a COPD-friendly recipe you’ll love.
If you’re wondering how Medicare Advantage can help you manage your COPD, we can help. Our licensed agents can discuss your needs and help you find a plan with benefits that work for you. Call us today at (800) 950-0608 or try out our free comparison tool to begin your search.