The lungs are a pair of organs in the chest, primarily responsible for respiration (inhalation and exhalation).
Lungs take in oxygen from the atmosphere and pass it into the bloodstream so that it can reach other parts of the body. From the bloodstream, oxygen gets picked up by the haemoglobin in the red blood cells. This oxygen-rich blood flows to the heart, which pumps it to other tissues throughout the body. Blood rich in carbon dioxide then returns to the heart via the veins. From the heart, this blood is pumped to the lungs, where carbon dioxide passes into the alveoli to be exhaled.
Lungs also perform many other functions in the body:
1. Prevent carbon dioxide poisoning: As energy produced is utilised, carbon dioxide is created as a waste product which should be eliminated as it can lead to a build-up acidic pH in the blood causing acidity, headaches, drowsiness, coma, and may even result in death. It is the lungs that eliminate carbon dioxide through expiration.
2. Helps in filtering processes: Our lungs have the ability to filter small blood clots and can remove small air bubbles called, air embolisms.
3. Performs protective functions: The lungs can act as a shock absorber for the heart in certain types of collision. Certain lung membranes secrete immunoglobulin A that protects them from pathogenic infections.
4. Supports airway clearance: The mucus that surrounds the respiratory passage traps dust particles and bacteria. Tiny hair-like projections, known as cilia, move these particles upwards so that they can be coughed out and destroyed by the digestive system.
5. Acts as a blood reservoir: The amount of blood that lungs can contain at any moment varies. This function is extremely useful- particularly while exercising. The amount of blood our lungs can contain at a time can vary from 500 to 1000 ml. The lungs interact with the heart and help the heart function more efficiently.
Lung problems are common nowadays due to overexposure to environmental pollutants, genetic factors, sedentary lifestyle, active or passive or smoking and many others. Below are some of the lung-related issues.
1. Asthma: It is the most commonly seen lung disease that makes your lungs swollen and narrow, making it harder to breathe.
2. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Due to an inflammation in the lungs, breathing gets difficult and there is an overproduction of mucus. This can thicken the lining of the lungs, due to which air sacs get less efficient at bringing in oxygen and sending out carbon dioxide.
3. Pulmonary hypertension: Pulmonary hypertension affects only the blood vessels between your heart and lungs. Blood vessels become narrow, blocked, or stiff, causing the heart to work much harder for pumping the blood.
4. Lung cancer: Lung cancer is caused when cells in the lungs grow abnormally, leading to the development of tumors.
5. Chronic pneumonia: It is a lung infection caused by microorganisms, leading to inflammation. This can also result in filling up the air sacs with fluid causing pulmonary pneumonia.
Some commonly performed tests to examine functioning of the lungs are chest X-ray, CT scan (for detailed picture of lungs), pulmonary function tests (PFTs), spirometry test (measures how fast and how much air you can breathe out), and lung biopsy (where a small piece of tissue is taken from the lungs for examining lung condition).
Dietary tips to improve lung functioning:
Increase the intake of fruits and vegetables to 2 cups of fruit a day and 3 cups of vegetables every day. The micronutrients and antioxidants present in these will keep your immune system strong and help heal the lungs. Include good protein sources (at least twice a day) to maintain strong respiratory muscles. Include whole grains like whole wheat bread /oats bread, cereals, millets and brown rice. 20-30% of the calories should come from fat to keep the body cells healthy. Choose unsaturated fats such as olive oil, peanut butter, nuts, avocados, flax seeds and fatty fishes such as salmon and tuna. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important as excess weight, especially around your stomach can lead to shortness of breath. Include potassium in your daily diet as it is crucial for healthy lung functioning. Foods such as dark leafy greens, tomatoes, asparagus, beetroots, potatoes, bananas, oranges, and avocados are good sources of potassium. Incorporating certain herbs and spices in daily routines such as eucalyptus, licorice, ginger, garlic, peppermint, and turmeric also help in natural detoxification of the lungs.