A recent study found COPD patients who ate more of four foods – fish, grapefruits, bananas and cheese – seemed to have better lung function. Antioxidants might be the reason, although that’s far from proven.
COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is an umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis – two progressive lung conditions that increasingly limit patients’ ability to breathe. Coughing is a common symptom, but the key signs of COPD are shortness of breath and fatigue with activity and eventually even at rest. While it’s usually detected in middle-aged or older adults, the condition develops gradually. At least 80 percent of patients are current or former smokers, while others have a genetic form of COPD. Even though COPD is a lung disease, it also affects a patient’s ability to eat enough and can lead to unhealthy weight loss, extreme thinness and muscle wasting. According to the National Institutes of Health, COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
“The hallmark of COPD is that you have a sort of obstruction in your airway – you’re having a hard time expelling carbon dioxide,” says Ilaria St. Florian, a registered dietitian. “We breathe in oxygen; we breathe out carbon dioxide. And because that becomes more difficult, breathing becomes more labored.” As a result, metabolism goes into overdrive, and patients burn more calories.
To keep up their strength, people with COPD have to significantly change their diets: the foods they eat and how they eat. For patients battling fatigue and loss of appetite, St. Florian offers these tips:
- Patients “really want to get the most bang for their buck when they’re eating,” she says. “So we recommend not to have big meals – it’s too much of a load at one time.” Smaller, more frequent meals work better.
- Make sure to get enough protein. “If patients are losing muscle, their dietary protein can synthesize new muscle,” St. Florian says. “That’s really important.”
- Healthy fats – as in monounsaturated fats from canola oil, avocados and nuts – are heart healthy and provide extra calories for patients who aren’t eating a lot.
- Dairy products may produce mucus, which can be uncomfortable for some patients, St. Florian says. So ice cream isn’t a good idea.
- To avoid filling your stomach, don’t drink fluids with meals. “Of course, it’s important to stay hydrated,” she says. “Just drink those fluids between meals.”
- To avoid aspirating food – having it go down into the lungs with the risk of pneumonia – St. Florian tells patients to eat very slowly. And if they use oxygen, to wear it while they’re eating.
Consider the First Source!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word choreographed an assembly of amino acids into an exquisite array of specific proteins. Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” In so doing God demonstrated a penchant for genomic writing, preceeded by an amazing series of prebiotic events, in a highly orchestrated presentation of evolutionary overcontrol.