Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Subscribe to the Magazine for free
Subscribe for free to keep reading! If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Integrative Approach to Treating Lung Diseases in the Geriatric Population

Medically reviewed by 
Integrative Approach to Treating Lung Diseases in the Geriatric Population

The aging population faces various health challenges, one of which is lung disease. Lung diseases, which affect millions of older adults, can lead to significant morbidity and mortality. The WHO (World Health Organization) reports that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) alone affects 64 million people worldwide and is the third leading cause of death. This is particularly concerning for the geriatric population, as the risk of developing lung diseases increases with age. An integrative approach, combining conventional and functional medicine, can offer valuable solutions for managing and treating lung diseases in older adults.


What is Lung Disease?

Lung disease refers to a group of conditions that affect the lungs' structure and function. These conditions can impair the respiratory system, making it difficult for the body to receive adequate oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Lung diseases can be broadly categorized into three main types: obstructive (airway), restrictive (lung tissue), and vascular (lung circulation).

Lung Disease in Geriatric Population

Lung diseases are particularly prevalent in older adults due to various factors, including age-related changes in lung function, reduced immune response, and increased exposure to environmental factors over time. For instance, the natural aging process leads to decreased lung elasticity and capacity, making older individuals more susceptible to lung diseases. Senior adults are also more likely to have comorbidities and a history of smoking or exposure to environmental pollutants, which can further increase their risk of developing lung diseases (14,15,16).

Types of Lung Disease

Three distinctive categories of lung diseases are described below:

Obstructive Lung Diseases (Airway Disease)

Obstructive lung diseases are characterized by a narrowing or blockage of the airways, making it difficult for air to flow out of the lung(s). Two main types of obstructive lung diseases are Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma. COPD is a term that includes both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both conditions cause inflammation and damage to the airways and lung tissue, leading to airflow obstruction and breathing difficulties. Asthma, however, is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes the airways to narrow and swell while producing excess mucus. This can lead to symptoms like wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma triggers include allergens, respiratory infections, and environmental irritants (5,6,7).

Restrictive Lung Diseases (Lung Tissue Disease)

Restrictive lung diseases involve stiffness or reduced elasticity in the lung tissue, making it difficult for the lungs to expand during inhalation. Common types of restrictive lung diseases include pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis. Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition where the lung tissue becomes thickened, stiff, and scarred. This scarring makes it challenging for the lungs to expand and transfer oxygen to the bloodstream, leading to shortness of breath and fatigue. Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease causing the formation of small granulomas (clusters of immune cells) in various organs, including the lungs. These granulomas can interfere with normal lung function, causing breathing difficulties and decreased lung capacity (8,9,10).

Vascular Lung Diseases (Circulation Disease)

Vascular lung diseases affect the blood vessels within the lungs, leading to impaired gas exchange and oxygen delivery to the body. Some common types of vascular lung diseases include pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary hypertension is a condition characterized by abnormally high blood pressure specifically in the arteries of the lungs. This increased pressure can strain the heart, leading to right-sided heart failure and reduced oxygen delivery to the body. A pulmonary embolism transpires when a blood clot, usually originating in the legs or pelvic region, travels to the lungs blocking one (or more) pulmonary arteries. This can cause sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, and potentially life-threatening complications if not treated promptly (11,12,13).

Signs of Lung Disease

Common signs and symptoms of lung disease include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent respiratory infections

Possible Causes of Lung Disease In Older Adults

Various factors can lead to the development of lung diseases in older adults, such as:


Tobacco smoke is the primary risk factor for many lung diseases, including COPD and lung cancer. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking causes most lung cancer cases, and smokers are 12-13 times more likely (compared to nonsmokers) to die from COPD. Smoking causes damage to the airways and small air sacs (called alveoli) in the lungs, making it difficult for oxygen to be exchanged and leading to the development of chronic lung conditions.

Environmental Exposures

Long-term exposure to air pollutants, such as dust, chemicals, and fumes, can contribute to the development of lung diseases. The American Lung Association states that particle pollution can penetrate deeply into the lungs, increasing the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Continuous exposure to pollutants can cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and damage to lung tissue, leading to decreased lung function and a higher risk of lung disease.


Genetic predisposition can play a role in developing certain lung conditions, like cystic fibrosis and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder causing persistent lung infections and progressively reduces the ability to breathe. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is a type of genetic disorder that can result in lung and liver disease due to the body's inability to produce enough of a specific protein that protects the lungs.


Viral and bacterial infections can cause acute or chronic lung conditions, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis. These infections can lead to inflammation and damage to lung tissue, resulting in decreased lung function and an increased risk of chronic lung diseases.

Age-Related Changes

The natural aging process can lead to decreased lung function and an increased risk of lung disease. Age-related changes in lung structure and function include a decline in respiratory muscle strength, a reduction in lung elasticity, and a decrease in the efficiency of gas exchange. These factors can make older adults more susceptible to respiratory infections and chronic lung diseases, such as COPD and asthma.

Integrative Medicine Labs to Test for Root Cause of Lung Disease

The following labs can be utilized to analyze the root causes of lung disease:

Environmental Triggers

The Environmental Toxins Panel helps identify environmental toxins that may contribute to lung disease. This can help guide practitioners in developing targeted detoxification strategies and addressing environmental factors that may exacerbate lung conditions.


Conventional Treatment for Lung Disease

Conventional treatments for lung diseases may include medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and, in severe cases, surgery. Medications may be used to manage symptoms, reduce inflammation, and improve lung function. Oxygen therapy can help patients with reduced lung function receive adequate oxygen, while pulmonary rehabilitation programs aim to improve exercise capacity and overall quality of life. In some cases, surgery is necessary to treat lung diseases, such as lung transplantation or lung volume reduction surgery (31,32).

Functional Medicine Treatment for Healthy Lungs in Older Adults

Functional medicine focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of lung diseases to promote overall lung health. Some evidence-based functional medicine treatments for lung diseases include:

Dietary Modifications

Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, like the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce inflammation. This type of diet helps to reduce inflammation by including foods rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Key components of this diet, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, provide a variety of anti-inflammatory compounds that work together to combat inflammation. Research shows that adherence to a Mediterranean Diet could be used as a preventative measure for individuals who have a high risk of developing lung dysfunction diseases.


Regular physical activity, including aerobic exercise and strength training, can improve lung function and overall health. The American Lung Association explains that exercise strengthens the respiratory muscles, increases lung capacity, and improves the efficiency of oxygen exchange in the lungs. By engaging in regular physical activity and exercise, individuals can build lung strength and resilience, reducing the risk of lung diseases and improving their ability to cope with existing conditions.

Stress Management

Techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress, which may contribute to lung disease and dysfunction. Research suggests chronic stress can negatively impact immune function and cause inflammation, potentially exacerbating lung conditions. By incorporating various stress management techniques into their daily routine, individuals can promote relaxation, reduce inflammation, and support lung health.

Environmental Control

Reducing exposure to environmental irritants, such as tobacco smoke and air pollution, can help protect lung health. Exposure to environmental pollutants can lead to chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and lung tissue damage. By minimizing exposure to these irritants, individuals can reduce the risk of developing lung diseases and support their overall lung health.

Foods For Lung Health

A healthy diet rich in many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support lung health. Some foods particularly beneficial for lung health include leafy greens, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. These foods provide essential nutrients and antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation and support lung function.

Supplements for Lung Health

The following supplements can also be useful for supporting healthy lungs:

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for Lung Health

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a supplement derived from the amino acid cysteine that supports lung health through its antioxidant and mucus-thinning properties. As a powerful antioxidant, NAC helps reduce inflammation and protect lung tissue from oxidative stress, contributing to lung diseases like COPD and asthma. Additionally, NAC improves airway function by thinning mucus, reducing the risk of infections and complications associated with chronic lung conditions.

Vitamin D for Lung Health

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that can play a role in supporting lung health for older adults. Research suggests adequate vitamin D levels are associated with better lung function and improved immune response. Vitamin D can help modulate inflammation, support the immune system's ability to fight infections, and may reduce the risk of respiratory infections in older adults. Ensuring proper vitamin D levels through supplementation, sun exposure, or dietary intake can be beneficial for maintaining lung health.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Lung Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients known for their anti-inflammatory properties. They can help support lung health in older adults by reducing inflammation in the airways and lung tissue. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can improve lung function, reduce symptoms of asthma, and may have protective effects against COPD development. Incorporating omega-3 fatty acids through diet (such as fatty fish) or supplementation can be a valuable strategy for promoting lung health in older adults.



In conclusion, lung diseases are a significant concern for the geriatric population, with various factors contributing to their development. An integrative approach that combines conventional and functional medicine can provide comprehensive care for older adults with lung diseases. Identifying and addressing the root causes, such as smoking, environmental exposure, and genetics, is crucial in managing lung diseases effectively. Functional medicine treatments, including dietary modifications, exercise, stress management, and supplements, can help promote overall lung health and can improve the quality of life for older adults. By adopting a holistic approach that focuses on the individual's unique needs and circumstances, healthcare practitioners can better support the geriatric population in maintaining healthy lungs and leading fulfilling lives.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
Learn More
No items found.

Lab Tests in This Article

Subscribe to the Magazine for free to keep reading!
Subscribe for free to keep reading, If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.