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LungsAbout the lungs

The lungs are the primary respiratory organs in humans. They function to transport oxygen from the atmosphere to the bloodstream and to rid the body of carbon dioxide. The exchange of these gases is accomplished in a complex of millions of cells.

At the bottom of the trachea, two large tubes, called the main stem bronchi, lead into each lung.  Each main stem bronchus branches off into tubes, or bronchi, that get smaller and smaller, like branches on a big tree. The tiniest tubes are called bronchioles, and there are about 30,000 of them in each lung, and they are about the same thickness as a hair. At the end of each bronchiole is a special area that leads into clumps of very tiny air sacs called alveoli. There are about 600 million alveoli in the lungs which have a mesh-like covering of very small blood vessels called capillaries.

Human lungs are located in two cavities on either side of the heart. Though similar in appearance, the two are not identical. Both are separated into lobes, with three lobes on the right and two on the left. The lobes are further divided into lobules, hexagonal divisions of the lungs that are the smallest subdivision visible to the naked eye. The connective tissue that divides lobules is often blackened in smokers and city dwellers. The medial border of the right lung is nearly vertical, while the left lung contains a cardiac notch. The cardiac notch is a concave impression molded to accommodate the shape of the heart. To a certain extent, lungs are ‘overbuilt’ and have a tremendous reserve volume as compared to the oxygen exchange requirements when at rest. This is the reason that individuals can smoke for years without having a noticeable decrease in lung function while still or moving slowly. In situations like these, only a small portion of the lungs Trumpet Playerare actually per fused with blood for gas exchange. As oxygen requirements increase due to exercise, a greater volume of the lungs is per fused, allowing the body to match its CO2/O2 exchange requirements. The lungs themselves have a spongy texture and are honeycombed with epithelium, which gives lungs a much larger surface area in total than the outer surface area of the lung would suggest.

Respiratory function

While breathing is often taken for granted, there is actually a great deal that occurs in the body with each breath. Dozens of body parts participate in the exchange of gases – mouth, nose, diaphragm, rib muscles, trachea, bronchi, cilia, alveoli, and blood veins and vessels. Air that is inhaled goes through the bronchi and the bronchioles, and ends up in the 600 million alveoli. As these millions of alveoli fill up with air, the lungs expand. It’s the alveoli that allow oxygen from the air to pass into the blood. All the cells in the body need oxygen every minute of the day. Oxygen passes through the walls of each alveolus into the tiny capillaries that surround it. Traveling on red blood cells, the oxygen enters the blood in the tiny capillaries and passes through layers of blood vessels to the heart. The heart then sends the oxygenated blood out to all the cells in the body.

Once cells have used the oxygen they need, it is time to exhale. Blood that is carrying carbon dioxide and other wastes that must leave your body enter the alveoli. The blood comes back through the capillaries and the wastes are then breathed out in the reverse order of how they came in - the air goes through the bronchioles, out the bronchi, out the trachea, and finally out through your mouth and nose

The air that you breathe out not only contains wastes and carbon dioxide, but it’s warm, too. As air travels through your body, it picks up heat along the way. You can feel this heat by putting your hand in front of your mouth or nose as you breathe out. 

The inhalation and expiration of air in the body is also called ventilation. The maximum volume of air that a person can exhale is known as vital capacity. In combination with other physiological measurements, vital capacity can help make a diagnosis of underlying lung disease. When ventilation is weakened, vital capacity is diminished and respiratory function is impacted. Inflammation in the lungs, from a variety of sources from disease to environmental pollutants, is the primary reason lungs cannot function properly.

When the lungs are impaired for any reason, normal respiratory function is affected, and the impact can be felt in many places in the body. Normal activity levels can decrease and ordinary pursuits can become limited.

Non-respiratory functions

In addition to gas exchange and respiration, the lungs perform non-respiratory functions. The lungs also:

Work to filter out small blood clots formed in veins

Act as a protection for the heart, nearly enclosing it with their soft, shock-absorbing tissue.

Help to determine the concentration of substances and drugs used in medicines that will be biologically active in arterial blood.

Dandelion PuffRespiration and activities

The lungs are essential for breathing, or respiratory function, and they also help to perform all physical activity. The very act of speaking requires air from the lungs. The larynx is situated above the trachea. Also called the voice box, the larynx has two tiny ridges called vocal cords, which open and close to make sounds. When you exhale air from the lungs, it comes through the trachea and larynx and reaches the vocal cords. If the vocal cords are closed and the air flows between them, the vocal cords vibrate and a sound is made. To shout or make a loud sound more air blowing out of the lungs is required.

Normal breathing can become difficult at times

There are dozens of conditions that can affect the lungs. Lung disease is the number three cause of death in America, accounting for one in seven deaths each year. The cost of lung disease is eRespiration and activitiesnormous. Asthma alone occurs in about 20.5 million Americans. The annual direct health care cost of asthma is approximately $11.5 billion, and another $4.6 billion is spent in indirect costs, like lost productivity.1, 2 The most common diseases to impact the lungs include asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, influenza, and pneumonia. Lung diseases seriously impair the ability to breath. The act of drawing in and pushing out air can become labored and painful, and the gas exchange that is so essential to health throughout the body can be challenged. It is typically some form of inflammation in the lungs that is responsible for impairing the ability to breathe normally.

Life style suggestions to help protect the lungs

Factory PollutionThere are a number of factors that can affect and damage the lungs, making breathing more difficult. There are certain things to avoid for optimal lung health. These include: 

air pollution
toxic fumes
aerosol sprays
certain cleansers and paints
extremely cold air

For people prone to exercise-related asthma and other lung diseases, it is essential to avoid exercising or being outdoors when air pollution creates an environmental alert or if it is very cold, as these conditions can exacerbate breathing problems.

Getting a good nights’ sleep of at least 8 hours per night can also help you have healthy lungs.

Diet and nutrition choices

Eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients from vegetables and fruits and nuts supports healthy. According to many nutrition experts vitamin A rich foods like apricots, chicken and turkey help to support healthy lung function. Avoid dairy products and other mucus-producing foods. Mucus in the respiratory tract can harbor bacteria and viruses that cause disease.  

 Yoga exerciseExercise ideas

Regular exercise helps to develop lung function. During exercise or other exertion, breathing becomes more apparent. Rather than being an unconscious activity, breathing can become more labored unless a conscientious effort to regulate breathing is made. Understanding how to control breathing is an important key to physical activity. Whether it’s running, yoga, basketball, dancing, cycling, singing, public speaking, or bowling, knowing how to control breathing can significantly improve performance. Exercise is good for every part of your body, and especially for your lungs and heart. When you take part in vigorous exercise, your lungs require more air to give your cells the extra oxygen they need. As you breathe more deeply and take in more air, your lungs become stronger and better at supplying your body with the air it needs to succeed. Feeling tired or short of breath while exercising isn’t a bad thing. It means your lungs are working hard. Even conditioned athletes get short of breath during exercise.

Natural support for healthy lungs

Natural substances can help support the lungs and respiratory system. In addition to anti-inflammatory substances, vitamins and nutrients can help keep the body’s natural defenses strong. For anyone who suffers from compromised breathing, the ability to take regular, full breaths of air without pain or impairment is a gift.


1. National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 1982-1996, 2001-2004.

2. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Chartbook, U.S. Dept of Hlth & Hum Service, NIH, 2004.

3. Dhuley, JN. “Antitussive effect of Adhatoda vasica extract on mechanical or chemical stimulation-induced coughing.” J Ethnopharm, 1999 Nov 30; 67 (3): 361-365

4. Chakraborty, A, Branter, AH. “Study of alkaloids from Adhatoda vasica on their anti-inflammatory activity.” Phytotherapy Research, 2001; 15: 532-534

5. Reddy, CK, et. al. “Studies on the metabolism of glycosaminoglycans under the influence of new herbal antiinflammatory agents.” Biochemical Pharmacol, 1989; 20:3527-3534

6. Singh, GB, Atal, CK. “Pharmacology of an extract of salai guggul ex-Boswellia serrata, a new non-steroidal antiinflammatory agent.” Agents Action, 1986; 18:407-412

7. Okimasa, E, et. al. “Inhibition of phospholipase A2 by glycyrrhizin, an an anti-inflammatory.” Acta Med Okayama, 1983; 37: 385-391

8. Mansuri, S, et. al. “Some pharmacological characteristics of ganglionic activiy of lobeline.” Arzneim Forsch, 1973; 23: 1271-1275

9. Dorsch, W. et. al. “Antiasthmatic effects of Picorrhiza kurroa : Androsin prevents allergen- and PAF-induced bronchial obstruction.” Int Arch Allergy Appl Immunol, 1991; 95:128-133

10. Haranath, PS, et. al. “Experimental study on mode of action of Tylophora asthmatica in bronchial asthma.” Ind J Med Res, 1975;63: 661-670

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