If you have decided to stop smoking, you are doing your body — and your lungs — a huge favor. Within weeks of quitting, the lungs will start healing, lung function will improve and the body will start cleaning the lungs more effectively.
While there may be some ways to enhance the body's smoking detox process, the most important way to help keep your lungs clean is to remain a nonsmoker and minimize exposure to polluted air.
Allow the Natural Detox
The body is equipped with a natural detoxification system, which is effective unless the body is exposed to more toxins than it can handle. On a daily basis, toxins leave the body through the urine, stool, sweat and respiration — or via exhaled air.
When the lungs are assaulted by damaging chemicals, such as those found in tobacco smoke, the body can't keep the lungs clean and the entire respiratory system — and body — suffers. But as the lungs get exposed to cleaner air, the body becomes more effective at removing pollutants from the lungs and keeping the lungs clean.
Breathe Clean Air
Tobacco smoke slows the movement of the cilia, or the tiny hairs that line the lungs and move mucus — and any trapped dirt and chemicals — out of the airways. So when you stop smoking, the cilia start working effectively again, clearing toxins from your lungs.
So the most important way to keep your lungs clean is to stay away from polluted air, and to make sure you continue your smoke-free status. Also, stay away from others while they smoke, to avoid the temptation to resume smoking and to protect your lungs from second-hand smoke.
Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Another way to assist your smoking detox is to consume fruits and vegetables throughout your day. The antioxidants from fruits and vegetables protect the body and lungs by neutralizing free radicals, which are harmful byproducts of normal body processes. Free radicals are also caused by exposure to harmful substances such as tobacco smoke.
The good news is that even after you stop smoking, fruits and vegetables can protect your lungs. A 10-year study concluded that a diet rich in fruits and tomatoes preserved lung function in adults, particularly in ex-smokers. Study authors also suggest that fruits and vegetables can help restore the health of lungs that have been damaged by exposure to smoking.
Drink Plenty of Water
Another way to help your body naturally detoxify is to drink plenty of fluids. Water is preferred, although herbal teas may also be of particular value.
Staying well hydrated can help your lungs get clean, since drinking enough fluids keeps the mucus thin and effective at trapping toxins — which the lungs expel through normal cilia movement or from coughing. In addition, drinking enough fluids helps you urinate regularly, a process which also removes toxins from the body.
To promote lung health and ensure an effective smoking detox, get regular exercise. If you have been smoking for a number of years or you are out of shape, start with small amounts of exercise and gradually increase physical activity over time. The exercise will help improve your lung function and can help counter lung damage from smoking.
As you exercise, you may notice more phlegm in your lungs or more coughing. This may temporarily occur after you stop smoking, and is related to the lungs getting cleaner, and getting rid of unwanted substances. To get the best results, make exercise a part of your normal daily routine.
If you need help or support in your quest to quit smoking for good, talk with your doctor, community lung association or local hospital education center. Many medical centers and community clinics have support groups and smoking cessation programs.
These programs have many ways to motivate you to quit, and to stay smoke-free. For instance, it can be very motivating to see pictures of lungs after quitting smoking, compared to the lungs of a smoker.
Even if you have stopped smoking, your body may have suffered lung damage from smoking, due to long-term exposure to tobacco smoke. Be sure your doctor knows you are a former smoker, and see your doctor regularly. Ask your doctor for advice before starting a new exercise program.
Also, let your doctor know if you have any new or unusual symptoms, such as an ongoing cough, frequent respiratory infections or chest pain after quitting smoking.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
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- European Respiratory Journal: Dietary Antioxidants and 10-Year Lung Function Decline in Adults From the ECRHS Survey
- International Journal of Biomedical Science: Free Radicals, Antioxidants in Disease and Health
- New England Journal of Medicine: Airway Mucus Function and Dysfunction
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Quitting Smoking
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: What's the Deal with Detox Diets?
- American Cancer Society: Benefits of Quitting Smoking
- American Lung Association: How Lungs Work