Just Breathe

We take over 20,000 breaths a day, yet most of us take lung health for granted. Each inhalation delivers vital oxygen to every cell in the body, so if anything interferes with respiration, it grabs our attention immediately. If you have never given much thought to your respiratory health, there’s good reason to do so now.

The 2022–2023 cold and flu season served up an unprecedented wave of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This seasonal illness arrived earlier and hit harder than usual last fall, likely because the previous years’ pandemic lockdowns prevented infants and toddlers from being exposed as they normally would, creating an immunity backlog, so to speak, of kids vulnerable to RSV. Adults are also susceptible to RSV, although it usually presents in them as a common cold. If you were sick last year and tested negative for COVID-19, you may very well have had RSV. But we’ve weathered that storm, right? Well, sort of.

Having RSV, or other respiratory infections, negatively impacts lung function in ways that linger. Coupled with other risk factors for poor lung function, such as low vitamin D levels, air pollution, or workplace chemicals, these are all excellent reasons to be proactive about lung health. If anyone in your family had a seasonal illness last year, here are a few essential nutrients that can help support robust lung health.


Most of us are familiar with vitamin C for its immune-boosting properties, but it is also an essential nutrient for healthy lung function. Vitamin C protects the lungs by being a powerful antioxidant.

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals – rogue electrons that damage our cells in a process akin to a sliced apple turning brown. How are these wayward electrons getting into our lungs? When we breathe in smoggy air or cigarette smoke, we expose our lungs to high levels of free radicals. Vitamin C can help counteract this damage and defend lung tissue by quenching free radicals. You can find vitamin C in foods such as citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, and broccoli.

If you live in an area with poor air quality, upping your daily vitamin C intake is wise. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C for adults is 75–90 mg, but some studies indicate that higher doses are more beneficial. Research shows that taking at least 400 mg of vitamin C per day can help prevent oxidative damage to lung tissue and improve lung function in people with chronic respiratory health concerns.


A less famous but equally important nutrient for lung function is N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). We can find this amino acid in foods like chicken, turkey, yogurt, and eggs, and it has multiple actions for respiratory health. Like vitamin C, NAC is a vital part of the body’s antioxidant defence system. As a free radical wrangler and precursor to glutathione – the body’s most important antioxidant – NAC provides lung protection from disorderly electrons directly and indirectly.

Preserving lung function is not just about fighting free radicals. NAC is also a mucolytic, meaning it helps break down mucus, making it easier to breathe.
It also helps maintain a healthy inflammatory balance in the airways, which is vital for managing any respiratory condition. Finally, NAC helps support immune function in the lungs by boosting the production and activity of white blood cells. In people over 65 who take 600 mg twice daily, NAC reduces the frequency and severity of seasonal viral illness symptoms.

In addition to nutritional support, regular exercise helps keep your lungs in tip-top shape for the millions of breaths you will take this year and every year to come.