Reducing Chronic COPD Inflammation

The more we learn about COPD, the more we know it to be a disease with consequences that extend far beyond the lungs. Although COPD primarily targets the respiratory system, the effects that occur outside the lungs – often referred to as extra-pulmonary or systemic effects – are important to consider when talking to your doctor about managing the disease.1

COPD Inflammation: All Good or All Bad?   

Inflammation is a normal, yet complex response that isn’t easily reduced to being all good or all bad. On the bright side, acute (short-term) inflammation plays an essential role in protecting and healing the body after a physical injury or infection.  Once the healing process reaches a certain stage, the immune system shuts itself off and inflammation generally resolves on its own.

But inflammation also has a dark side. Chronic (prolonged) inflammation can be silent and destructive, occurring when the inflammatory response is out of proportion to the perceived threat it’s trying to thwart off, or when it’s directed at an inappropriate target.2 Chronic inflammation has a disturbing, long-lasting effect on the body that can last for days, months, or even years.1

Chronic Inflammation and COPD

COPD is characterized by an abnormal, excessive inflammatory response of the lungs to harmful respiratory pollutants and gases. Although tobacco smoke is the chief offender in this process, air pollution and pollutants in the workplace are also contributing factors.

But the lungs aren’t the only organs that are influenced by the damaging effects of COPD; the disease is associated with abnormalities in other organ systems, as well. The extra-pulmonary (outside the lung) effects1 outlined below are among the most widely studied:

  • Systemic inflammation affects your entire system. It’s believed to contribute to the severity of COPD in those who are diagnosed and to the development of co-existing illnesses.
  • Nutritional abnormalities are common in COPD and often lead to unexplained weight loss. Although the exact cause of weight loss in COPD is not well understood, experts believe that a higher than normal metabolic rate (due to medications and/or systemic inflammation) that does not parallel with an increase in calories consumed plays an important role.
  • Skeletal muscle dysfunction (SMD) is characterized by muscle fatigue, muscle disuse, loss of muscle mass, muscle wasting, and muscle atrophy. Along with shortness of breath, SMD contributes greatly to the inability for many COPD patients to tolerate physical activity.
  • Additional organ effects that are common in COPD involve the heart, nervous system, and skeletal system (bones). Coronary artery disease, heart failure, depression, and osteoporosis are just a few of the health consequences that have been linked to systemic inflammation in COPD.

Inflammation: What Can You Do About It?

In a Mayo Clinic Health Letter, internal medicine specialist Dr. Brent Bauer reports that in order to reduce inflammation in the body, you must avoid the things that cause inflammation and are proven unhealthy. Most importantly, this includes quitting smoking and eliminating, or limiting alcohol consumption.3

copd inflammation, inflammation and copd

Changing your diet is also important. Some people believe that an “anti-inflammatory” diet helps keep inflammation at bay. Although more research is needed to substantiate this claim, the anti-inflammatory diet basically revolves around making better food choices2 including:

  • Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming healthy fats, such as olive and canola oil
  • Eating small portions of raw nuts and seeds
  • Eating more seafood, including salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring
  • Avoiding or limiting red meat

What about Dietary Supplements?

Although dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and more studies are needed before recommendations can be made as to their safety and efficacy, Dr. Bauer says the following2 may be of interest when considering home remedies for inflammation:

  • Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) — May help ease rheumatoid arthritis joint pain and osteoarthritis knee pain.
  • Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) — Used extensively in Europe as an anti-inflammatory agent. May be effective in the short-term treatment of pain associated with osteoarthritis.
  • Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) — Studies suggest Mangosteen may have anti-allergy, antibacterial, antifungal, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory qualities.
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) — May have a protective effect on the liver and remove or block harmful substances. May improve organ function in people with chronic liver disease and be beneficial in the treatment of chronic hepatitis, a disease that causes inflammation in the liver.

NOTE: More studies are needed to confirm the role of nutrition and dietary supplements in the treatment of inflammation. Before changing your diet or taking any type of dietary supplement, talk to your health care provider.  

Reducing Chronic Inflammation: Does Exercise Help?

Exercise is well-recognized as an important strategy for reducing the risk of many chronic illnesses. But did you know that it may also play a key role in reducing inflammation? In a study published by the American Heart Association’s Circulation Journal, 4,289 participants were followed over a 10-year period to determine the effect of physical activity on inflammation.  From the start, participants who were physically active showed lower markers of inflammation that remained stable over time. When the study concluded, 49% of those who engaged in at least 2.5 hours per week of moderate to vigorous activity maintained lower levels of inflammation than participants who were less active.4

Which types of exercises are most effective in reducing inflammation? Studies suggest that combining aerobic exercise with resistance or weight training may maximize the anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise.5

If you’re ready to attack inflammation before it attacks you, talk to your doctor about starting a safe exercise program that suits your current level of fitness.

For more information about exercise and portable oxygen therapy, read:


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


1 A.G.N. Agust, A. Noguera, J. Sauleda, E. Sala, J. Ponsand X. Busquets. Systemic effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. ERJ February 1, 2003 vol. 21 no. 2 347-360.
2 Terry Perry, Registered Dietician. Inflammation Explained. December 14, 2010. Accessed online on 7/26/2014.
3 Brent Bauer, M.D. Buzzed on inflammation. Mayo Clinic Health Letter. Online Edition. July, 2014.
4 Beavers KM1, Brinkley TE, Nicklas BJ. Effect of exercise training on chronic inflammation. Clin Chim Acta. 2010 Jun 3;411(11-12):785-93. Epub 2010 Feb 25.
5 R. Afshar, et. al. Effects of aerobic exercise and resistance training on lipid profiles and inflammation status in patients on maintenance hemodialysis. Indian J Nephrol. Oct 2010; 20(4): 185–189.

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