What can I do to help my lungs heal from smoking?
October 8, 2008 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I quit smoking (for good) two weeks ago. What can I do to help my lungs and the rest of my body heal?

Anyone with experience here? I am open to all kinds of solutions, from diet and exercise changes to vitamins and homeopathic remedies. Thanks!
posted by picapica to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The biggest thing is to not fall off the wagon. Risk of cancer drops with time, but I'm not aware of any ways of speeding the process along. And it can take a while: cancer risks don't go back to baseline for 20 years.

Other than that, a normal balanced diet with plenty of exercise will probably get your aerobic capacity back up where it should be. Doesn't have to be anything special.
posted by valkyryn at 9:47 AM on October 8, 2008

Water is not a panacea. I don't see any reason that it would clear particulates from the alveoli of the lungs, nor remove (non-water soluble) tars from the body.

AFAIK, nothing speeds that process up. It may in fact be the body's natural replacement of cells that removes the particulates (as they stick to dead areas), washes them away (to the kidneys & out as urine), and replaces with clean, new cells - that could take years & years, as observed.

You've done all you can, that we know of. And it's a FREAKING lot that you did - congratulations!
posted by IAmBroom at 10:19 AM on October 8, 2008

Well, of course exercise, esp. cardio, will help, but depending on how long you have smoked, you may feel its lingering effects for years. I certainly did. If you don't enjoy solitary exercise, you might look into joining a local adult soccer or ultimate frisbee team.

Homeopathic "remedies" and other sham treatments will not help.

The most important thing you can do, however, is to never, EVER let yourself think you can get away with one cigarette. You'll go right back to them. Many people do this over and over again before learning the lesson.

Whatever you do, it just takes time. I'm about 5 years out from quitting a 13-year, pack+/day habit, and consider myself a pretty serious bicyclist (100+ mi. rides regularly), jogger and backpacker now. But it took at least 3 and a half years before I felt like I had the same lung capacity as my never-a-smoker friends, regardless of how hard I worked out. Be patient.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:24 AM on October 8, 2008

Sure, water isn't a panacea, but it satisfies an oral fix plus gives the added benefit of helping with proper hydration.

As said above, there's nothing that will really help with the actual lung recovery. It took just over a year after quitting for my lungs to feel significantly better.

Treat yourself well. Eat, if you must, but take the long view. I gained 20lbs after I quit, but after a year, I finally tackled it. Take things in small steps.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2008

Oh..and congratulations! You'll hear it over an over again, but quitting is a huge deal and you should be proud of yourself for doing it, and after some time has passed, you'll be breathing better, which goes a long way.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:26 AM on October 8, 2008

I know pineapples and pineapple juice is supposed to help lung health. There is even a "pineapple fast" people do to maintain healthy lungs:

Pineapple Fasting eHow

Lung Health with Pineapples
posted by schindyguy at 10:39 AM on October 8, 2008

Congrats! I'm almost a month down the same path myself. I've been looking at these. Don't know if they work or not, hopefuly someone will chime in, but it all depends on what you're after. Personally, I just want to be able to run down the block to catch the bus without wheezing for 45 minutes afterwards.
posted by piedmont at 10:45 AM on October 8, 2008

Great news! I have also been smoke-free for coming on to 30 days and have started to get my lungs back by spending 30 or more minutes every day on the rowing machine at the gym. It helps a lot. I have noticed that I do still wheeze if I get really winded and I have absolutely no stamina yet at all. But I'm getting there and you will too. I get short-breathed in the shower sometimes and cough sometimes but I am not spitting up giant pools of black phlegm anymore. I recommend you get a cholesterol test. Mine was really high and now i am empowered beyond lung capacity alone to get back into the gym and eat better.

Good luck!
posted by parmanparman at 10:53 AM on October 8, 2008

Congratulations!!! Keep up the good work!

This is hard work and you are doing great.
posted by FergieBelle at 11:07 AM on October 8, 2008

The usual: Eat right, exercise in abundance, drink enough water, and get plenty of sleep. Don't be taken in by any of the usual fasting/supplement/homeopathy/colon cleanse bullshit, which somehow continues to be recycled among otherwise sane people every time a similar topic comes up.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:22 AM on October 8, 2008

I'll nth the exercise recommendations. It did wonders for me (I've been off cigs for over four and a bit years now). It not only makes you feel better about yourself, but it'll stop you from wanting to smoke, especially when you see how out of shape you were and the marked improvements that you will make.
posted by ob at 11:42 AM on October 8, 2008

It does take time to recover, and it might take months before your lungs feel completely healthy. As long as you take decent care of yourself and don't push yourself too hard, you will be fine.

When I played oboe, I had a breath builder, and I remember working with something similar when I had pneumonia. I don't know how useful something like that would be, but it helped me, and I certainly don't think it could hurt. Trying out yoga, qi gong, or other exercises that involve breath awareness/deep breathing would help too.

And, yes, congratulations are in order! Quitting smoking really is worth it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:52 AM on October 8, 2008

The most important thing you can do, however, is to never, EVER let yourself think you can get away with one cigarette. You'll go right back to them. Many people do this over and over again before learning the lesson.

This kind of thinking is one of the reasons quitting is so damn hard. Slipping up once doesn't mean you've failed. The trick is to recognise the slip-up as a mistake, understand why it happened, throw the rest of the pack out and keep right on quitting.

(Anecdata: Pack a day habit over six years, couple of failed attempts. Then I quit for a month, but ended up smoking a few cigarettes over a few days because things got stressful. Once the stressful event passed, I continued to quit. It's been a year now.)

And now your actual question - don't take vitamins, do eat well, do exercise. And enjoy being able to breathe again. But here's the important bit: Quitting smoking is hard and represents a major change in your life. It's a very positive change. But you don't want to make too many changes at once. Get used to not smoking - give it a few months. That's when you should start thinking about what else you can do to reinforce the benefits of not smoking. Save this thread, look at it then.
posted by xchmp at 12:20 PM on October 8, 2008

My brother gave up smoking 20 years ago after smoking for over 20 years. He goes to the gym daily for aerobics and weight training. He suffers from COPD as a direct result of his smoking. His doctor tells him that his exercising, running, and bike riding are the only things that keep him alive. The doctor said that it is amazing what the exercises have done. A life-saver for sure.

So anything that works the lungs seems to be the best therapy.
Good luck.
posted by JayRwv at 1:31 PM on October 8, 2008

don't take vitamins
What? Why?
posted by piedmont at 1:41 PM on October 8, 2008

another vote for exercise.

for me, running helped stave off nicotine cravings, helped keep some of the dreaded "quitter's gain" off, and reminded me of how good it felt to do something healthy with my lungs.

do whatever kind of exercise you enjoy, but take this opportunity to replace a bad habit with a good one!

congrats on quitting! :)
posted by wayward vagabond at 2:44 PM on October 8, 2008

How about taking walks and getting some clean fresh air and just really enjoy having it in your lungs? I quit smoking in spring, and I'd walk around the block and enjoy flowers or a nice breeze. Nice deep cleansing breaths. Mind you, I have no science behind this, but nice clean air made me feel like I was airing out my lungs. Once I replaced the idea of cool, clean air with smoke, I really liked the idea of not smoking. I was nervous, but all of the sudden I felt like I was doing something to help myself, and the process, though difficult, was fun and didn't feel like something I had to do, but something that made me feel great.

You could also try eating foods high in anti-oxidants like blueberries, broccoli and organic cocoa. Many believe they help build up resistance to cancer.

Also, I've just started a meditation course led by a doctor. She believes, like Andrew Weil and John Kabot Zinn, that calming your mind and getting in touch with your body may well prevent many diseases. (the classic book is Full Catastrophe Living)

BTW, don't be discouraged if you get chest colds in the next couple months. The change to a healthy life is not without stress. Just keep in mind the process may be slow. But your lungs will continue to feel better for years, as does your digestion and sense of taste. That's what keeps me quit. (I took me several tries, and sadly, a couple years, but I'm coming up on ten years and know I'd never go back!)
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:20 PM on October 8, 2008

Why not vitamins? Because there's very poor evidence that taking vitamins (in the absence of any specific medical need) will make you any healthier. Indeed, some vitamins may make you unhealthier. For example, the Cochrane review on antioxidant supplements published earlier this year concluded that there is "No evidence to support antioxidant supplements to prevent mortality in healthy people or patients with various diseases." The antioxidant supplements included in the review were vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. The review also found some evidence that vitamin A and vitamin E supplements may increase mortality, though it's unclear how significant this is. (Antioxidants consumed in foods are a different matter entirely. Also, blueberries are tasty and you get your sense of taste back after quitting, so it's win/win with them.)

Michael Pollan's discussion of nutritionism, Unhappy Meals, is also worth reading. (And includes the great advice "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.")

To be fair, there are specific circumstances where there's good evidence for the general use of specific vitamins. But these are mostly public health issues (eg. vitamin D and folic acid). People with certain medical issues may benefit from supplementation of specific vitamins. But there's no good evidence to suggest that supplementing with a multivitamin will do you any good, and some evidence that it might be slightly bad for you.

I don't really want to derail the thread with this, and as you can probably tell, it's kind of a pet subject with me, but there you go. And hey, the OP did ask about vitamins.
posted by xchmp at 3:25 PM on October 8, 2008

There's the yoga of breathing Pranayama which might or might not be the kind of thing you're looking for.
posted by emptyinside at 5:41 PM on October 8, 2008

It helped me to get really into exercise like doing cardio at the gym and swimming. Actually I quit by starting the cardio and being embarrassed and uncomfortable at my coughting and wheezing on the treadmill. So set yourself exercise goals and think about how awful it feels to exercise when you are coughing up stuff.

It also helped me to go in the sauna and steam room. Maybe it's just psychological but it felt like it was helping.
posted by Melsky at 8:39 AM on October 9, 2008

About a month after I quit the last time, I started coughing up black/grey slime for about another month. That was the cilia re-growing in my lungs. Not long after that, I could smell, taste and breathe better. I didn't have to do anything in particular to help my body heal, though I did start walking more because I had more energy.
posted by stavrogin at 2:01 PM on October 10, 2008

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