People have been taking probiotics to support digestive health for centuries, but researchers in the pulmonary field have turned their attention toward how microbiome science can be used to support the lungs.
The last several years have certainly expanded our consciousness of respiratory health risks. We have learned that viruses do not discriminate, vaporizers are not harmless, and wildfire smoke travels.
The respiratory system is vital to body function, but often people do not consider the health of their lungs until a problem presents itself. In the past, lung disease was typically tied to people who smoked, who have been around someone who smoked, or who have been exposed to irritants in their work environment, like firefighters or coal miners. However, with lung disease now a leading cause of death in the United States, the stigma is beginning to fade.1
More and more people, including those who are healthy or those with existing lung conditions, are taking steps to prioritize and protect their everyday lung health. As physicians and pharmacists, we must provide the best solutions to help maintain lung health long-term.
Research Shows New Ways to Target Lung Health
People have been taking probiotics to support digestive health for centuries; however, in the last decade, researchers and experts in the pulmonary field have turned our attention to how microbiome science can be used to support the lungs. Just as gut bacteria can impact brain or skin health, early research into bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma (asthma), cystic fibrosis (CF), and other lung conditions showed correlations between an imbalanced microbiome and respiratory health as well.2
Simply put, we learned that the microbes and cells in the gut interact on both physical and biochemical levels. Bacteria can transfer through micro-aspirations between the 2 systems,3 and gut bacteria can also alter the production of short-chain fatty acids and other cytokines that can travel through systemic circulation to affect lung health.4 This means these bacteria not only support digestion but can also support lung and immune health.2
During our research, we were also familiar with the growing body of clinical evidence showing the positive impact of ancient herbs on lung health. Some of these operate on similar pathways to support a healthy inflammatory response. For example, turmeric root is one of the most studied herbs and is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits.5
Scientists also recently uncovered a compound called vasicine in the ayurvedic herb vasaka leaf to better understand how it supports healthier breathing and its bronchodilatory properties.6 Similarly, holy basil (also known as tulsi) has been studied and used to support a healthy immune system,2 and it has recently been discovered to also effectively liquefy phlegm and is effective for cough caused by allergic bronchitis, asthma, and eosinophilic lung disease.7
Why It Matters
People don’t always consider supplements in the context of their respiratory care. Even if they take supplements regularly, lung health is still not often considered a target for wellness and prevention habits. In fact, up until the last few years, most people believed that if they exercised and ate healthily and didn’t smoke, that was enough to support and protect their lung health. However, post-2020, we find that more people are looking for more effective, more proactive ways to support lung health.
We know lung health is top of mind for people today more than ever before because of environmental factors and the reality that lung disease is a leading cause of death.1 Particularly when we talk about respiratory health, raising the bar for scientific integrity in the supplement category could not be more essential.
About the Author
C. Vivek Lal, MD, FAAP, is the founder and CEO of Alveolus Bio & ResBiotic and the director of the Pulmonary Microbiome Lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.