Nutrients and lung health

~ by Karen Lily (June 2020)


This is Part 2 of a series on maximising your health to attempt to reduce your risk of being taken seriously ill with COVID-19.

Difficulty breathing is the most common serious complication from the corona virus. This is more often the case with people who have existing lung, heart conditions, diabetes and smokers but can affect anyone. In the worst cases people develop pneumonia and can go onto develop acute respiratory distress syndrome and die.

1To avoid pneumonia it is recommended to:

  • stop smoking,
  • get plenty of exercise,
  • eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables,
  • get enough sleep
  • avoid abusing alcohol and
  • avoid stress.

While nothing has been yet been proven to protect our lungs against coronavirus, it makes sense to ensure our lungs are in the best condition possible.

woman swimming and stopping for breath
fresh tomatoes

Lycopene can enhance lung function

One interesting study over a 10 year period monitored lung function and dietary antioxidant intake. It showed that apple, banana, tomato, herbal tea and Vitamin C are associated with better lung function in many but not all individuals.

Tomato showed the most promise as being protective for everyone when the figures were adjusted for height, age, country, sex, smoking status, socio-economic class, body mass index, total energy intake, physical activity and years of education.2

Other studies suggest that it is the lycopene content of tomato that provides their protective effect. 3

It is worth noting that heating or pureeing tomatoes makes their lycopene content more absorbable. Heating reduces other beneficial nutrients in tomatoes, so it is best to eat a combination of fresh and cooked tomato.

fresh tomatoes

Fruit and vegetables, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene and lung function

A study carried out in 3 European countries in middle aged men during the 1960s measured lung function and dietary intake of fruit, vegetables, and the antioxidants: vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene.

This study involved over 3000 men in Finland, Italy and the Netherlands, examining them at outset and then 5 and 10 years later.

In all three countries above average consumption of both fruit and vegetables together were associated with better lung function.

Consumption of all three antioxidants – vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene – were associated with better lung function in two of the three countries. Vitamin E did not improve lung function in Finland.

Interestingly, bread consumption was also associated with improved lung function but unfortunately the type of bread was not recorded. It could be because whole grain bread contains vitamin E but this is speculative.4

Now Foods Magesium, Calcium, Zinc and Vitamin D3

Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Magnesium and Zinc for respiratory illness

History shows that Vitamin C seems to be protective against pneumonia. Many scurvy victims died of pneumonia. Because Vitamin C can shorten the length and severity of common colds, it can prevent some cases of asthma and of other complications arising from influenza.5 6

Results of many different trials over many years has shown that Vitamin D can significantly reduce respiratory illness. As Vitamin D can be created when the body is exposed to sun, it was suspected that the absence of sun in northern hemisphere countries could be the reason that the common cold and respiratory infections were prevalent during winter. Many studies have shown that adding Vitamin D to the diet reduces respiratory tract infections, especially those deficient in it.

Magnesium supplementation is recommended when taking vitamin D supplements. Magnesium helps activate vitamin D … All the enzymes that metabolize vitamin D seem to require magnesium, which acts as a cofactor in the enzymatic reactions in the liver and kidneys.”6

Zinc lozenges taken orally can reduce the length of common colds by 28 to 40%. Zinc acetate appears to be better than zinc gluconate but the difference between them is not significant.9

Now Foods Magesium, Calcium, Zinc and Vitamin D3


There is much we can do to improve lung health. Most important is getting exercise and eating a diet rich in both fruit and vegetables. There is a lot of evidence that certain nutrients support respiratory function and/or reduce our risk of complications from influenza and viruses that cause lung infections. These nutrients are:


  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D with Magnesium
  • Beta carotene
  • Lycopene
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin E (shows mixed benefit)

Get these nutrients from iHerb


Consult your doctor first if you are pregnant/nursing, taking medication or have a medical condition.


  1. Can you prevent pneumonia? (WebMD)
  2. Dietary antioxidants and 10-year lung function decline in adults from the ECRHS survey (European Respiratory Journal)
  3. Tomato lycopene and its role in human health and chronic diseases (CMAJ)
  4. Dietary factors and pulmonary function: a cross sectional study in middle aged men from three European countries (Thorax. 1999)
  5. Vitamin C and Infections. (Nutrients Journal 2017)
  6. Self-Care for Common Colds: The Pivotal Role of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea (Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal 2018)
  7. Cod Liver Oil, Vitamin A Toxicity, Frequent Respiratory Infections, and the Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic (The Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology 2008)
  8. Vitamin D and airway infections (European Journal of Medical Research 2016)
  9. Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2017)


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