Q & A Library
Battling Lung Disease?
What herbs, supplements, exercise and nutritional changes do you recommend for someone who has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis?
Answer (Published 1/2/2004)
Pulmonary fibrosis is a very serious lung disease. It is sometimes caused by occupational exposure to asbestos or metal dusts that damage the lungs, causing scarring that eventually impairs their ability to provide the body with oxygen. Other known causes include sarcoidosis, a disease that gives rise to the formation of areas of inflammatory cells called granulomas as well as such connective tissue diseases as rheumatoid arthritis or scleroderma. Often, however, the cause isn't known. When this is the case, the disease is referred to as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Current medical thinking holds that IPF is an autoimmune disorder or, possibly, the aftereffect of a viral infection.
Symptoms usually begin with a dry cough and shortness of breath - especially with exertion - that worsens over time and makes everyday activities more difficult. IPF usually occurs in middle-age, but all age groups can be affected and it develops equally among men and women. The sooner the disease is diagnosed, the better, so that treatment to slow its progress can begin. Conventional medical treatment usually starts with prednisone, an immunosuppressive steroid drug, taken by mouth. Other drugs may be prescribed as needed, and eventually some patients require oxygen to reduce breathlessness and stay active. In advanced cases, lung transplants may be necessary.
Exercise is also a component of conventional treatment in order to improve muscle strength and breathing ability - patients usually are encouraged to exercise even if they need oxygen - in order to manage a daily walk or a ride on a stationary bike.
In addition to conventional treatment, be sure to eat a healthy diet that focuses on lowering inflammation and take an antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplement. You also might consider cordyceps and reishi mushrooms, which are good for the lungs. These come in liquid form or as powdered extract. Follow the dosage directions on the product. Likewise, taking whole licorice may make it possible to lower your prednisone dose. You can find whole licorice as a root or extract. Look for products with six to 10 percent glycyrrhizin and follow the dosage direction on the package. Since whole licorice can worsen high blood pressure, check with your doctor before taking it if your pressure is high.
In addition, I would recommend mind/body approaches such as hypnosis or guided imagery. Practicing breathing techniques can also be helpful as can homeopathy, energy medicine and Chinese medicine. If you're interested, you can learn about clinical trials that are recruiting pulmonary fibrosis patients here:
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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