Why Are Your Lungs So Important?
On average, a person takes approximately 17,000-23,000 breaths a day. The number varies based on several factors, including a person’s lifestyle and environment.
This statistic proves just how important the lungs are. You are constantly using them to fuel the rest of your body.
Lungs act at the first point of contact for oxygen as it enters the body. From there, oxygen is dispersed throughout the bloodstream, being carried to cells throughout the body. Each cell transfers carbon dioxide when it receives oxygen. The blood carries the carbon dioxide back to the lungs where it is removed through exhaling. This gas exchange is necessary for everyday functioning.
In order to keep this process going, it’s crucial to keep your lungs healthy. Lung-related health complications can negatively affect the oxygen flow to your cells, along with a variety of other body processes. These ailments vary from viruses and colds to chronic conditions and lifelong sickness and cancer. Certain lung conditions can be hereditary, or caused by genetics. Such conditions include asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
However, certain lung conditions are non-inheritable; that is, caused by environmental and lifestyle factors. While not always 100% preventable, these conditions can be avoided.
Environmental Lung Cancer Causes
Many environmental factors can contribute to lung diseases, including lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death and second-most prevalent cancer type among both men and women (second to skin cancer) in the United States.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber that has been mined for thousands of years. It has been known for beneficial properties but also for its extremely harmful properties. Commonly used in construction and building products for its fire- and heat-resistant properties, asbestos becomes carcinogenic when it’s disturbed and airborne. Although asbestos use has gone down in the last several decades, there is still a lot of asbestos in older homes and buildings. It has not yet been banned in the U.S.
When inhaled, asbestos can cause lung cancer, as well as a rare type of cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a very aggressive type of cancer that can form in the lining of the lungs (as well as the abdomen or heart) and typically has a poor prognosis. Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma are given 12–21 months to live.
To learn more about where you can find asbestos in homes and buildings, read more here.
Radon is a natural substance that is present in nearly all air, and everybody breathes it in daily. It can enter the home in many different ways. Radon levels can be more or less severe depending on your geographic location. If consumed in a low level, it is relatively harmless. However, individuals who inhale high levels of radon have an increased risk of developing lung cancer at some point in their lives.
Radon causes lung cancer because of its quick decay process, which gives off tiny radioactive particles. Inhaled particles damage cells that line the lungs, so long-term exposure and cell damage can eventually lead to lung cancer. Approximately 15,000-22,000 annual lung cancer deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to radon exposure. This makes up around 10% of all lung cancer deaths.
Whether you’re a smoker or not, tobacco smoke inhalation can increase your chances of getting lung cancer. Smokers account for approximately 80% or more of all lung cancer diagnoses. The long list of 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes (60+ known carcinogens) attribute to this extremely high risk.
Unfortunately, even if you choose not to smoke, you can still increase your risk of lung cancer if you are exposed to secondhand smoke, also known as sidestream smoke. The National Cancer Institute reported “approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year among adult nonsmokers in the United States as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.”
Living with a smoker increases your chances of contracting this disease by 20-30%.
How to Keep Your Lungs Healthy
You cannot always avoid potential health threats, but you can be proactive about maintaining the health of your lungs! Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t smoke cigarettes, or quit if you currently do.
- Avoid toxins when possible. Check the EPA’s list here.
- Deep clean your home with natural products.
- Improve your indoor air quality with air purifying plants.
- Keep your lungs strong with aerobic exercise and deep breathing.
- See your doctor for regular checkups.