Insufficient levels of oxygen can be a concern for many reasons, including unhealthy lifestyle habits, congenital disabilities, bodily injuries, or as the result of numerous illnesses and debilitating conditions. One of these conditions is called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – ARDS. During pandemic, ARDS can be a genuine concern for many people.
Approximately 200,000 Americans are affected by ARDS annually. Approximately 30 to 40% of ARDS cases are fatal.
The lungs and respiratory system are critical parts of our amazing bodies, and without these organs, life itself would be impossible. Not only do they supply the air we need to survive, but they also provide oxygen throughout the body that is necessary for life and create an aerobic (literally “with oxygen”) atmosphere in all of our organs. This oxygenation is vital for maintaining health and preventing illness, as most forms of disease cannot exist in the presence of oxygen, but thrive when the body is in an anaerobic (“without oxygen”) state.
While ARDS may be the result of chronic illness or long term unhealthy choices in our lives, its effects can, and usually do, come on suddenly and may quickly cause severe respiratory consequences. This is why the term “acute” is included in the title of the illness, which can be misleading because ARDS is often the result of much more chronic circumstances and conditions affecting our overall wellness.
How Does Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – ARDS Damage Our Respiratory System?
A healthy, efficiently operating set of lungs is designed to introduce and replenish oxygen to the blood in the body’s circulatory system so that this oxygen-rich blood can then be distributed throughout the body. This process is meant to occur at a point where the smallest blood vessels of the lungs (the bronchiole) meet the minute air sacs in the lungs (the alveoli). If all is working correctly, there are membranes in place that will allow oxygen to pass through into the blood and, at the same time, will keep blood from entering the lungs via the alveoli. When ARDS has damaged the body, these membranes become faulty due to the pressure of blood that builds up in the alveoli, and the system breaks down, causing severe respiratory distress. In turn, damages to the entire body may happen by depriving it of enough life-giving oxygen.
Acute respiratory distress syndrome – ARDS demands immediate attention, especially since it often hits people who are already critically ill or injured. Reversal can happen, although it takes time for ARDS victims to return to full lung function and complete respiratory health. In about 25-40% of cases, acute respiratory distress syndrome is fatal because the body cannot survive such a severe blow to the respiratory system – mainly if other unhealthy conditions are present as well.
What Are The Symptoms of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – ARDS?
Severe shortness of breath is the most common indicator that one may have developed ARDS. It typically occurs within hours or days of the onset of ARDS. It should be watched out for in chronically ill people – especially if there are pre-existing respiratory issues — and trauma or injury victims. Besides sudden shortness of breath, other signs of ARDS may include:
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Extreme fatigue
- Mental confusion
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Fever (in a minority of cases)
Sudden breathing difficulty is always an urgent situation, whether caused by ARDS, heart disease, or any other reason — it requires immediate intervention. Because of the nature of ARDS, it often afflicts people who are in the hospital with chronic illness or sudden trauma. It’s important to observe our loved ones in such situations for any signs of ARDS so that we can alert medical personnel to the situation.
What Causes Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – ARDS?
The most common cause of ARDS is a traumatic injury or illness that damages the sensitive membranes in the lungs that are responsible for oxygen exchange with the blood. While it is difficult to predict and prevent accidental injuries that can trigger ARDS, there are many ways one can reduce the risk for illnesses linked to ARDS, as we will discuss later.
Inflammation to the respiratory membranes is the primary culprit in ARDS. Numerous conditions may cause such destructive inflammation. Some of these include:
- Trauma to the body, especially in the head or chest area
- Heart failure or other coronary diseases that produces fluid in the lungs
- Systemic (body-wide) infections, especially in the blood (sepsis)
- Respiratory viral infections such as COVID-19
- Pneumonia (bacterial or viral)
- Accidentally inhaling smoke or chemicals such as chlorine or ammonia
- Inhalation of vomit
- Near drowning (inhalation of water or other liquids)
- Toxic reactions to certain drugs. These can include illegal drugs like heroin or medications such as cancer treatment drugs (another danger of chemotherapy)
- Broken bones, particularly long bones like the femur, which can result in an embolism (fat particles that travel from the bloodstream into the lungs).
- Use of supplemental oxygen and/or a mechanical ventilator (“breathing machine”) for more extended periods (several days to a week or longer). Oddly enough, these are two of the most common allopathic treatments for ARDS.
- Liver disease (cirrhosis) – especially chronic – or pancreatitis (“inflammation of the pancreas”)
- Other factors, such as smoking (current or former), abuse of alcohol, and specific surgical procedures, also increase the risk for ARDS.
- Toxic fume inhalation
- Multiple drug transfusions
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome
- Fungal lung infection
- Bacterial lung infection
What are the Possible Complications with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – ARDS?
ARDS in and of itself is a severe disease, but what makes it even more dangerous is potential complications that can result chronically, in some cases, even for those who recover from ARDS. These complications may include:
- Ongoing bacterial infections: These may strike the lungs (pneumonia), bloodstream (sepsis), and other areas such as the spinal fluid or urinary tract.
- Pulmonary Fibrosis: This involves the accumulation of scar tissue between the alveoli in the lungs, further reducing the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the blood.
- Mental confusion or depression: When a person continually experiences oxygen deprivation, temporary or permanent brain damage can occur that potentially leads to foggy thinking, memory loss, or even emotional problems such as depression. Oxygen plays such a vital role in the body, and the brain will undoubtedly suffer from insufficient amounts of this life-giving building block of life.
- Ventilator issues: Many ARDS patients are put on a ventilator as part of treatment. While it helps people to breathe better, it has its risks. These include a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) and muscle weakness or wasting due to poor delivery of nutrition while on the ventilator. One of the factors in these complications is also the sedative drugs typically administered during ventilation. The bottom line, the longer one is on a ventilator – especially over a week – the higher the risk. We should all be aware of these issues for ourselves and our loved ones when considering treatment options.
Treatment for ARDS
While current treatment focuses on keeping patients breathing through a mechanical ventilator, cutting-edge research led in part by UC San Francisco’s Carolyn Calfee, MD, an associate professor of medicine, is opening the door to the possibility of diagnosing and treating ARDS before it becomes life-threatening. Key to Calfee’s work is the Early Assessment of Renal and Lung Injury (EARLI) study at UCSF Medical Center, a novel research design that enrolls patients at risk for ARDS straight from the emergency room (ER) – before their condition has taken a debilitating toll. A significant hurdle to ARDS research is that the disease is so acute and fast-moving that by the time patients typically participate in studies, their health is significantly deteriorated. (more info here)
The best treatment for any disease or illness is always prevention. It is undoubtedly true with ARDS. If one ends up with the condition and is hospitalized for it (or already in the hospital), the only thing mainstream medicine can do is give supplemental oxygen and/or put one on a ventilator and its associated sedative drugs. As discussed above, these involve certain risks.
How Can I Avoid Getting ARDS?
Keeping yourself as healthy as possible is the best way to avoid ARDS. Staying well helps to prevent conditions that can cause or aggravate ARDS, such as heart disease, other respiratory conditions, respiratory viruses, or a weakened liver or pancreas. When in times of pandemic or disease out-breaks, please practice social distancing, wash your hands, stay home, and use the suggestions below to support your body.
Eat Healthy Foods
Wellness always starts with consuming healthy food and eliminating toxic food. A healthy diet of organic foods such as fruits and vegetables, organic whole grains, healthy fats, and plant-based and/or free-range sources of protein should become a daily habit. In the long run, eating healthy can help keep toxins out of your body as well as deliver high-quality nutrition to support your body’s natural healing mechanisms.
Physical exercise is also a key to prevention, especially with a respiratory condition such as ARDS. Aerobic exercise strengthens the lungs, circulatory system, and delivers more oxygen to the body. However, implementing simple activities such as walking (especially in the sunshine) and/or rebounding are also very useful.
It is essential to learn how to deep-breathe on a regular basis, not just when exerting yourself. Habitually shallow breaths, which is very common, leads to chronic deprivation of oxygen even to people with ARDS or other illnesses. The Wim Hof Method Breathing is an excellent way to do this.
Keeping your lungs healthy is essential. It is also vital to learn how to deep-breathe regularly, not just when exerting yourself. Habitually shallow breaths, which is very common, leads to chronic deprivation of oxygen even to people without ARDS or other illnesses. The Wim Hof Method Breathing is excellent. It takes most people some time to be able to do the entire session. And that’s okay. Go as far into each session as you can and then begin to add more time every 3-4 days. You can find the Wim Hof Method Breathing instructional video here. Practice mindful breathing by teaching yourself to breathe deeply until it becomes second nature.
Vitamin D3 may be an essential factor in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19, the coronavirus, according to a study from the University of Turin. The study analyzed the relationship between the deficiency of Vitamin D3 in the body and viruses. Professor Giancarlo Isaia, president of the Academy of Medicine, indicates that “preliminary data collected in the last days in Turin indicate that patients with some pandemic viruses have a very high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency”.
Vitamin D3 is vital for a healthy immune system. Evidence suggests that Vitamin D1 affects “reducing the risk of respiratory infections of viral origin, including that of the coronavirus.” Insufficient Vitamin D3 levels in the body are often linked with several chronic diseases that can lessen life expectancy in older people, “all the more so in the case of pandemic virus infections”.
The authors of the study suggest, “These indications derive from countless scientific evidences that demonstrated an active role of vitamin D in the modulation of the immune system, the frequent association of hypovitaminosis D with numerous chronic pathologies that can reduce life expectancy in the elderly,” even more in the case of some pandemic virus infection, an effect of vitamin D in reducing the risk of respiratory infections of viral origin, including those caused by a coronavirus and the ability of vitamin D to neutralize lung damage caused by hyper inflammation.”
Current research proposes that a compound called sulforaphane may have a prophylactic and curative benefit against ARDS and some pandemic viruses. Sulforaphane is found mainly in cruciferous vegetables like kale and broccoli.
Sulforaphane can lower the viral load in the nose, increases the production of NK cells. Sulforaphane can be especially beneficial for the elderly. It is a potent Nrf2 inducer, which regulates the expression of more than 200 cytoprotective genes. Sulforaphane can diminish inflammatory damage to the lungs in ARDS. Sulforaphane provides a protective effect on the lungs, against cancer, diabetes, and neurological disorders, all of which are risk factors for deaths from COVID-19. Broccoli sprouts contain the highest levels of sulforaphane precursors: glucoraphanin and myrosinase. Be aware that myrosinase is destroyed by heat.
Sulforaphane creates a protective effect on the lungs. A 12-week study completed in Qidong, China, suggests that consumption of sulforaphane is associated with an instant and sustained increase in urinary excretion of airborne pollutants, benzene 61%, and acrolein 23%. In another study, daily 100 μmol sulforaphane for 14 days improved the broncho-protective response in asthmatics
Rigorously wash Broccoli sprouts (organic is preferred) to avoid E. coli and Salmonella contamination. The addition of myrosinase in the form of daikon radish or mustard seed powder may increase the content of sulforaphane. SULFORAPHANE activates the transcription factor Nrf2 by reacting with the cysteine residues of its repressor, Keap1. Additionally, it also inhibits NF κ B .v signaling, AMPK activation, and autophagy, preventing fatty acid-induced mitochondrial dysfunction in the liver, with downregulation of NLRP3-induced inflammasome activation that promotes cytokine storm in sepsis.
Boost Your Immune System Naturally
Proper diet and exercise are essential and necessary, but food-grade supplements can be a great help as well. There are many options to consider. If you would like to know more about how you can boost your immune system naturally, please read my article Emergency Guide Enhancing Your Immune Naturally.
Liver cleansing is also helpful in supporting healthy liver function, which is sometimes a factor in ARDS. The liver is such a critical organ for overall wellness that caring for it proactively – particularly in this day of increased toxins in our food, water, and the environment – is one of the best health choices we can ever make.
Smoking is not your friend, especially with any illness that can attack the lungs. It’s best to put those cancer sticks down thus lessening your risk for lung disease. And please don’t smoke inside your home or around young children and the elderly.
Prevention is always easier than having to deal with an active illness or disease. When we choose to provide our body with healthy nutritional support, daily exercise, food-based supplements, as well as other immune-supporting health modalities, we lessen the effect of many health issues that may attack our body. Good health doesn’t just happen by popping pills, we must be a participant by taking time to work on our health — body, mind, spirit — in every season of life.
References & Research
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