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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 05/12/2017

All about COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive disease that limits airflow through either inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes (bronchitis) or destruction of alveoli (emphysema). Frequently, both conditions coexist as part of this disorder. Tobacco, exposure to air pollutants in the home and workplace, genetic factors, indoor air quality, outdoor air pollution, long-term asthma and respiratory infections all play a role in developing COPD. 12.7 to 14.7 million American adults have COPD.  Approximately 95% of Americans diagnosed with emphysema are 45 years of age or older, and COPD is more common in men than women.

The most common COPD symptoms are breathlessness, chronic cough, and mucous production. Unfortunately, many patients with COPD don’t know they have a problem until the disease becomes more severe and the symptoms more evident. COPD is not curable, which is why early diagnosis is very important. Treatment relieves symptoms, improves quality of life and reduces risk of death. Your doctor may perform tests for early diagnosis if you have history of smoking, if you are exposed to secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust, if you have the symptoms mentioned above, or if you have a family members who have had COPD.

Spirometry is a simple test to assess your lungs’ functionality. It measures how much and how quickly a person can forcibly exhale air. Chest X-ray and arterial blood gas are complementary tests commonly performed to determine the severity of your COPD.

COPD treatment must be personalized, because each person has different symptoms. Medical treatment often includes pulmonary rehabilitation, bronchodilators, steroids, antibiotics, leukotriene inhibitors, mucolytic medicines, immune system modifier medicines, supplemental oxygen and surgery, among others.

COPD is closely linked to malnutrition. Weakness, shortness of breath, tiredness when chewing, difficulty swallowing, and increased risk of choking often reduce calorie and nutrient intake for those with COPD. This can force the body to use its stores of nutrients (muscle and fat), which over time leads to malnutrition. Without adequate calorie and protein consumption, you will lose weight and your respiratory muscles become weak, which alters ventilation and impairs immune function. Infections are a frequent problem for those with COPD, which worsens your ability to eat and maintain good nutrition.

In general, patients with COPD need to receive a high calorie, high protein diet that is low in carbs and high in antioxidants and fats, especially fats with anti-inflammatory properties such as omega 3. The main focus is to preserve weight and muscle structure to prevent deterioration of respiratory muscles. Food consistencies play a major role in the COPD diet. Some people do not have any limitations to their daily activities like preparing food or chewing, but others have severe physical restrictions and could get tired of chewing. Changes in food consistencies may be needed, according to individual needs. Those with COPD are also encouraged to eat small but frequent meals with foods high in calories and nutrients to facilitate food intake before getting tired of chewing.

Below are some strategies to increase your calorie and protein intake with food that is easy to chew and swallow:

  • Choose soft, moist foods that are easy to chew and swallow (apple sauce instead of apples, stews instead of grilled steaks).
  • Rest before meals to avoid fatigue.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of three larger ones to alleviate feelings of fullness and bloating.
  • If you can’t eat your calories, drink them - but be smart in your choices. Prepare healthy homemade fruit and veggie smoothies high in proteins and full of nutrients as an alternative snack. You can also use commercial nutritional shakes.
  • Decrease the amount of fluid you drink at meals to prevent feeling too full.
  • Use milk in place of water for hot cereal and soups.
  • If cholesterol is not a problem, use half & half or evaporated milk instead of skim milk to boost your calories.
  • Add grated cheese to baked potatoes, noodles, vegetables and soups.
  • Include cream or cheese sauces on vegetables and pasta, meat, and fruit.
  • Add instant dry milk to your regular milk to increase the protein content.
  • Sprinkle seeds or nuts on salads, fruit, cereal, yogurt and ice cream.
  • Add avocado to bread, vegetables, salads, soups and pastas.
  • Spread peanut or almond butter on toast and fruit, or add it to your banana smoothie for a peanut butter banana smoothie.

The Recipe of the Week: Peach Smoothie
1 whole peach (canned)
1 cup whole milk (or half & half*)
2 tbsp. baby oatmeal
1 scoop (20g) Whey protein
2 teaspoons sunflower oil

Nutrition Content: This will vary depending on the type of milk used.
With Whole Milk: Calories 712, Proteins 30 g, Carbohydrates 51g, Sugars 10g, Fats 15g, Fiber 8g

*You can add more calories by using ice cream as well as milk.

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