Smorgasbord Health – The Lungs – Part Two. Acute and Chronic diseases.

In the first blog I looked at the structure of the lungs and how we breathe. The purpose of these blogs is not to scare but to provide some insight into how these organs work and what effect our diet and lifestyle can have on their efficiency. As I mentioned before, the lungs get a lot less media attention than the heart and brain, but in essence we only live for around six minutes if these two bellows fail. Life becomes very restricted if the lungs are damaged or impaired in any way as we find it difficult to inhale enough oxygen for our other organs to function well and also to exhale toxins that then build up and play havoc with our general health.

Most of us do not have a doctor on call 24 hours a day – I am not being flippant but it is getting increasingly difficult to get an appointment within a two to three day window and in some cases two to three weeks! The initial 48 hour window is critical for most sickness. Unless you are sure that it is a common cold or the flu, any problem that is associated with front or back chest pain should be looked at immediately. Whilst there are clear signs of a heart event in the upper body that are covered in another series, you need to be concerned with pain to the sides of your chest or in your upper and central back area. This could indicate that you might have a lung problem that needs to be looked at.

Here is a brief look at some of more serious issues associated with the lungs that are mainly lifestyle related, with individual blogs to follow on Asthma, Pneumonia and Lung Cancer. I will also include the nutrients that are essential for lung health and a diet to follow to boost the immune system so that you body can fight off the infections

If we do not eat a healthy diet we will be more prone to minor infections that are likely to develop into these more serious illnesses. Our lungs need exercise to keep them fit and flexible and smoking, or being around smokers, will damage your lungs in varying degrees.



For anyone who suffers repeatedly from colds, bronchitis is always a possibility. There are two types of the disease. Acute bronchitis refers to the here and now and will last up to six weeks whereas chronic bronchitis infers long term symptoms that can last up to two years or longer if the infection is topped up from time to time by colds and flu.

Bronchitis usually follows an upper respiratory infection and is caused by the inflammation of the mucous membranes in the bronchial tubes. The membrane swells, thickens and obviously narrows the already tiny airways throughout the lungs. Our body’s response is to cough continuously to rid us of the infection, which produces the classic symptom of bronchitis. Thick phlegm is produced and there is usually breathlessness, fever and sometimes middle back pain.

Acute bronchitis is nearly always caused by viral infections but repeated attacks can lead to the chronic condition.

Chronic bronchitis is often caused by environmental pollution. It could be chemicals in the workplace or simply in the air around where a person lives. It is however very closely linked to long term smoking or passive smoking and as many people find it difficult to give up cigarettes the condition is never cured and usually leads to Emphysema.


The leading cause of emphysema is smoking and it is a long term and chronic condition. When you smoke, the alveoli or air sacs are damaged and therefore over a period of time not only are you prone to infection, but your lung capacity is diminished. There is evidence that suggests that if you give up smoking some of the damage can be repaired with improved lung function. There is also a link to air pollution but it is usually in combination with smoking or living in a smoky environment.

In recent years, a genetic link to emphysema has been identified. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency is a rare genetic disorder, which results in a person missing a vital enzyme that normally protects the lungs. A combination of smoking and this deficiency will inevitably lead to emphysema.

The most common symptoms of the disease are shortness of breath, the chest becoming barrel shaped, chronic wheezing, fatigue and unexplained weight loss.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is the most common genetic disease affecting young children. It affects not just the lungs but the digestive system and results in a build-up of mucus preventing the clearing of bacteria from the lungs. This leads to a constant cycle of infections and permanent damage to the lung tissue. In the digestive tract, mucous prevents the efficient processing of food and it also blocks the ducts in the pancreas preventing the release of digestive enzymes. The role of these enzymes is to assist the body in digesting food and extracting nutrients. Without this process the body receives none of the essential components it needs to function properly including immune function which is so necessary to prevent frequent infections.

The treatment for this disease involves heavy doses of artificial enzymes with every meal and a demanding physical therapy routine to keep the lungs clear of mucous and functioning.

People are born with cystic fibrosis although a much higher number of people carry the defective gene. A carrier has only one copy of the defective gene but if they then have a child with another carrier the odds of their children having the disease are greatly increased.

There is a 25% chance that their child will have the disease, a 50% chance that the child will not have the disease but will be a carrier and only a 25% chance that they will not have the disease or be a carrier. In a family with two carrier parents there is no way to tell if all the children will have the disease, some of them or none of them. Genetic testing of suspect carriers should always be carried out before having children and as there is usually a great deal of family evidence of the disease. Anyone who has a history should automatically undergo testing with their partner to establish if they are both positive for the gene.

The long term prognosis for cystic fibrosis sufferers is much improved since research has identified both the genetic link and modern treatments but it is still a devastating illness to live with and also to support for family and friends. Hopefully continued research into genetics will result in not just prevention but a cure for the disease.

Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a rise in blood pressure within the pulmonary artery caused by either a reduction in circulation or a rise in pressure in the lower chambers of the heart. The combination results in pulmonary heart disease.

Following chronic lung disease there is usually extensive damage to lung tissue and the alveoli or air sacs. The blood vessels in the lungs narrow over a period of time and oxygen is therefore restricted and in an effort to pump additional supplies around the body the right ventricle has to work a lot harder. In doing so it enlarges, putting strain on the heart muscles and their performance begins to deteriorate. Pressure in the veins returning the blood to the heart then have to work harder forcing water to leak from the blood stream into surrounding tissues. This leads to one of the classic symptoms of pulmonary heart disease, which is oedema or swelling in the lower legs spreading to the rest of the body.

The most common cause of the development of this condition is chronic lung infections or smoking that has led to extensive damage of the lung tissue.

Pleural Lining


In the first blog on the lungs I talked about the membranes that encase the organs and the fluid that ensures that the lungs can move smoothly as they inflate and deflate. This is called the pleura and although normally there is barely any space between the two membranes if the fluid content increases for some reason, a cavity develops.

There are two main causes of pleurisy, one is a direct infection by bacteria or virus after infection or perhaps physical damage and the other is a follow on from lung infections such as pneumonia.

Pleurisy can be dry or wet depending on the cause. In dry pleurisy there is no increase in fluid in the pleural cavity and the increased effort resulting from the infection means that the lungs rub and grate against each other and the walls of the cavity causing extreme pain at the outer edges of the chest.

Wet pleurisy can develop from this, increasing the fluid, which becomes a mixture of blood and lymph as the body’s immune system goes into overdrive. This will restrict the lungs movements making breathing difficult but may ease the pain as the lungs are no longer in contact with the chest walls. As the fluid builds up it will affect other occupants of the chest cavity including the heart that may become displaced. Over a relatively short period of time the person’s condition can deteriorate very rapidly and become dangerous.

If an upper respiratory infection develops into a chest infection it is important to make sure that you monitor the symptoms carefully. As soon as a pain develops in the back or in the chest you should go to your doctor. This is particularly relevant for the very young and the elderly who are the most vulnerable.

As we move through the series I will be covering Lung Cancer, Asthma and Pneumonia separately and then the specific diet to protect the lungs. The breathing exercises that I have already blogged are in the archives and they are great for increasing the flexibility of these essential organs.

Thank you for reading and please leave a comment. If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask through my about page and I will answer in confidence.


©Sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009