Lungs in a Time of COVID

Originally posted by David Price L.Ac on February 12, 2021.

Recent research proves that asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 may be much more widespread than previously assumed. Even more unsettling, a new study shows that even patients who are unaware of having ever been infected may develop a pulmonary abnormality, specifically a phenomenon known as ground-glass opacity or GGO. In radiological imaging, this aberration of the lung tissue appears as hazy infiltrates or spots. While benign in some individuals, GGO in other cases may be a precursor to deadly lung cancer.

Traditional Chinese Medicine states that “the lungs are the delicate organ”. This perspective is generally supported in modern Western medicine which recognizes both the fragility of the thin walls of the lungs, a mere 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, and the vulnerability of the lungs which can be permanently damaged by a single episode of disease. Research over the last few years has demonstrated that polluted air in urban environments may be as detrimental to respiratory function as chain smoking, raising serious concerns about the possibility of a widespread future epidemic of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Enter SARS-CoV2, a virus with the ability to ravage our lungs and set into motion degenerative changes even in asymptomatic cases. On the bright side, the primary risk factor for lung cancer, cigarette smoking— which makes an individual 15 to 30 times more likely to eventually develop malignant lung tumors—has declined 65% in the last 50 years. The bad news is that vaping is on the rise, and, given that pulmonary cancers on average occur 55 years after first being exposed to carcinogens, the real risks of vaping may not be clearly understood anytime soon. This fact is especially troubling in light of surveys which have shown that 25% of 12th graders and, even more shockingly, 5% of middle school students report having tried vaping.

With more than 20,000 cases of non-smoker lung cancer annually and the new potential risk factors for lung cancer of COVID-19 and vaping, it pays to take steps to maintain healthy lungs. There are several things you can do which may help reduce the risk of lung cancer in the future as well as other severe, chroniclung conditions—chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), for example. Measures worth consideration include:

  • Monitoring for asymptomatic COVID-19 infection with regular testing, especially for high-risk individuals and even for those who have been vaccinated (at least until evidence shows that vaccines prevent asymptomatic disease).

  • Daily low-impact aerobic exercise, including tai ji, yoga, cycling, or swimming, to strengthen and stimulate lung function.

  • Eating pears, recommended by Chinese medicine, for improved lung health in drier climates, while those who live in humid areas are advised to consume warming, spicier foods like cilantro and daikon radish.

  • Receiving professional help for conditions of persistent, chronic grief, which, according to Chinese medical theory, may impact pulmonary health.

  • Spending time in the mountains near streams and lakes—areas preferred by ancient Daoists and shown by modern research to be rich in healthy, negative ions that supercharge your lungs.

Finally, remember to breathe and be assured that the pandemic, too, shall pass!

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