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Nutrition – How important for Lungs in COVID 19 Pandemic ?

Presently, the COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis. These COVID times are very harsh

on everyone especially as the most important aspect of life that is oxygen uptake is getting affected due to affected pulmonary system. An optimal pulmonary system enables our body to obtain the oxygen to meet up cellular requirements to continue the process of metabolism of various nutrients. Overall a person’s nutritional well-being and proper metabolism along with utilization of specific nutrients is essential for the overall, growth, development, maturity and protection of healthy lungs and other organs and helps them to restore vitality. (Andreoli etal. 2004).

Various factors can be responsible for respiratory alterations such as insufficient surfactant production, emaciation, eating disorder like anorexia nervosa, drug overdose, severe osteoporosis, infections, etc.

Furthermore there are adverse effects of lung disease due to COVID or Non-COVID on nutritional status of an individual such as -

· Increased energy expenditure

· Increased work of breathing

· Chronic infection

· Medical treatments (e.g., bronchodilators, chest physical therapy)

· Reduced Intake

· Fluid restriction

· Shortness of breath

· Decreased oxygen saturation while eating

· Anorexia resulting from chronic disease

· Gastrointestinal distress and vomiting

· Altered metabolism

· Food-drug interaction

Under such circumstances and also in general, diet and nutrition plays a very crucial role by being a part of medical nutrition therapy in order to optimize the nutritional status and nutritional intake towards restoring lung function.

Nutritional status of individuals has been used as resilience towards destabilization during this COVID-19 pandemic. Optimal nutrition needed to maintain the nutritional status and dietary nutrient intake impact the immune system, therefore the only sustainable way to survive in current context is to strengthen the immune system.

While no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, but healthy diets as a whole are important for supporting immune systems. Good nutrition can also reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems.

The famous quote by Greek physician Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food” has stood the test of time.

The relationship between lung immune defence mechanisms and nutrition needs special attention.

The lungs are an important part of the body’s immune defence system, because inspired air is laden with particles and microorganisms. Mucus keeps the airways moist and traps the particles and microorganisms from inspired air. In case of malnutrition lung’s structure is adversely affected which include elasticity, and function; respiratory muscle mass, strength, and endurance; lung immune defence mechanisms; and control of breathing.

For example, protein, iron and folic acid deficiencies result in low hemoglobin levels which impair the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. Respiratory muscle function at the cellular level is affected adversely due to low levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Hypoalbuminemia (low serum albumin) leads to pulmonary edema by decreasing colloidal osmotic pressure and thus allowing body fluids to move into the interstitial space. Decreased levels of surfactant (compound synthesized from proteins and phospholipids) contribute to the collapse of alveoli thereby increasing the work of breathing. The supporting connective tissue of the lungs is composed of collagen, which requires ascorbic acid (Vit.C) for its synthesis and thus popping of Vitamin C pills are in high demand. Normal airway mucus is a substance consisting of water, glycoproteins, and electrolytes, and thus requires adequate nutritional intake as these can be received from right nutrition.

Free radical theory is further suggesting of lungs damage due to increased oxidative stress at cellular level, here antioxidant nutrients like Vit.E, Vit. A, Selenium, Zinc, Glutathione along with omega 3 fatty acids can protect lung tissues from oxidative injury and inflammation respectively.

An adequate intake of zinc, iron, and vitamins A, B 12, B6, C, and E is essential for the maintenance of immune function too.

Malnutrition leading to impaired immunity places any patient at high risk for developing respiratory infections.

In particular, malnutrition can adversely affect lung function and the adverse effects of such malnutrition include: decreased ventilatory drive, decreased respiratory muscle function, alterations of lung parenchyma and depressed lung defense mechanisms. Malnourished patients hospitalized with pulmonary disease are likely to have lengthy stays and are susceptible to increased morbidity and mortality.

Not just that, even adherence to social distancing norms, isolation to flatten the curve has further more aggravated sedentary life style and left us with no to little workout if at all done at home. This isolation not only promoting sedentary life style but also has created disturbances in sleep, eating pattern, mental health etc. which is further affecting the health adversely and leading to obesity.

Along with sedentary lifestyle, fear and anxiety regarding COVID-19 are also causing changes in dietary habits leading to unhealthy dietary patterns and less desire to eat or with lessened enjoyment during eating.

In the current situation, it is necessary to be aware of the specific types of food that can improve our immune system in order to combat COVID-19. Hence add foods from all food groups with special emphasis on fruits and green veggies to nourish with Vitamin C and other antioxidants. Omega 3 fatty acid supplementation is required along with Vitamin E, Zinc, Proteins and Vitamin D to reduce inflammation of lung tissues and airway passage and also to improve immune function.


From the above notes it can be summarized that a proper and healthy diet can ensure a effective immune system that can resist any onslaught by the virus. Individuals consuming well-balanced diets for prolonged period appear to be safer with better immune systems and thus lower incidence of chronic diseases and infections. This article is intended to induce healthy eating practices not just in Covid times but this practice of eating healthy is to be maintained for life long to remain healthy and immuned as immunity cannot be developed overnight.

References –

A food "lifeboat": food and nutrition considerations in the event of a pandemic or other catastrophe.

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Med J Aust. 2007 Dec 3-17; 187(11-12):674-6.

Annual Research Review: Improved nutrition--pathway to resilience.

Yousafzai AK, Rasheed MA, Bhutta ZA; J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013 Apr; 54(4):367-77.

Exercise, nutrition and immune function; Gleeson M, Nieman DC, Pedersen BK; J Sports Sci. 2004 Jan; 22(1):115-25.

How emotions affect eating: a five-way model. Macht M, Appetite. 2008 Jan; 50(1):1-11.

Indian J Clin Biochem. 2015 Jan; 30(1): 11–26.Published online 2014 Jul 15. doi: 10.1007/s12291-014-0446-0

Khayyatzadeh SS. Nutrition and Infection with COVID-19. J Nutr Food Security. 2020;5(2):93–96.

Pneumonia of unknown aetiology in Wuhan, China: potential for international spread via commercial air travel.

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Image source :Shutterstock, Image source : LSUHSC school of Medicine

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Anupama Chatterjee
Anupama Chatterjee
Jun 13, 2021

Informative, helpful and relevant.

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