Lung Health

Excerpts from: Saturated Fats and the Lungs by Mary G. Enig, PhD, Weston A. Price Foundation.

"Yes fat? No fat? High fat? Low fat? Wrong questions! A better question would be, how much of what kind of fat and why? Yes, we need added fat in our diets or we lose the synergistic effects from the natural fats in our foods.

Such fats provide us with appropriate satiety signals; they ensure absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins, phytonutrients and important minerals; and they provide the raw material for skin health, hormone production and adequate energy storage.

The use of low-fat diets is increasingly recognized as counter productive. Without good quality fat in the diet to promote proper satiety signals, we tend to overeat those foods that are readily available.

And since "readily available" foods are either high in simple carbohydrates or partially hydrogenated fats and oils or both, and since these foods promote insulin resistance, it is easy to head in the direction of obesity.

Saturated fats have gotten a bad rap. For 30 to 40 years, they have borne the brunt of an anti-fat campaign. This campaign was promoted by individuals in the fats and oils part of the food industry who had great influence over government agencies, consumer groups and the media.

Recommendations about fat in the diet made by government agencies such as the USDA, the FDA, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, organizations such as the American Heart Association and consumer activist groups such as Center for Science in the Public Interest invariably paint saturated fat as the one bad actor in the diet that needs to be fired from the scene.

The spokespersons from these organizations don’t understand the effects of the saturated fatty acids found in the diet and they don’t understand how much and where saturated fatty acids are normally found in the human body.

Everything these organizations report about fat is based on what they perceive to be the effects of saturated fatty acids on serum cholesterol levels.

So when a particular fat raises the level of the body’s repair substance, which is what cholesterol is, the question that really should be asked is whether this is good because the body will now get the repair substance it needs, or whether it could be bad if getting more of the repair substance triggers the need for repair.

The former makes sense, the latter does not. A well-known New York pathologist, Meyer Texon, MD, noted that accusing fat and cholesterol of causing the injury that led to the atheroma (see definition) is akin to accusing the white blood cells of causing infection; they are both there to help repair.

We need natural saturated fat in our diets. The important phospholipids (see definition) that form the membranes in all of our cells are made of mostly (half or more) saturated fatty acids.

This is especially true for parts of our brains where more than 80 percent of the phospholipids carry half of their fatty acids as saturated fatty acids.

When it comes to our lungs, the very important phospholipid class called lung surfactant is a special phospholipid with 100 percent saturated fatty acids. It is called dipalmitoyl phosphatidylcholine and there are two saturated palmitic acid molecules attached to it.

When people consume a lot of partially hydrogenated fats and oils, the trans fatty acids are put into the phospholipids where the body normally wants to have saturated fatty acids and the lungs may not work effectively. Some research has suggested that trans fatty acids are causing asthma in children.

Recent research shows that having enough saturated fat prevents stroke; and to protect our kidneys from disease, research shows we need certain kinds of saturated fatty acids, which are found only in the natural fats such as animal fats and coconut and palm kernel oils.

Source: Ask the Doctor – COPD – Pulmonary Disease by Dr. Tom Cowan – COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Question: My husband (a smoker for 35 years, but two years without smoking now) has been diagnosed with COPD and emphysema. He recently had surgery, a bullectomy (see definition), to remove very large bleb (see definition) from his right lung.

Breathing has improved only slightly (six weeks later) but doctors say it will take some months to judge, and that, in fact, because it’s a progressive disease, there may not be improvement at all. So we wait. Meanwhile, is there some sort of diet to follow, a supplement or medicine he could take to help repair some of the lung damage, to alleviate or ease his difficulty breathing when he exerts himself?

Answer: It is common knowledge that regular long-term cigarette use can lead to destruction of the lung tissue, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and what used to be called emphysema. What is not so common knowledge about this situation is that there are many countries that historically have also had high rates of cigarette use, but far less lung cancer and COPD.

Some of the reasons for this may include such things as the toxic additives put into the cigarettes, but an overlooked factor is the influence of diet on the progression of COPD. The exact tissue that is injured in COPD is the alveoli which are akin to small soap bubbles.

These alveoli make up the bulk of the lung and are the sites where the gases are exchanged. They are thin, often only one layer thick, a property that makes the diffusion of gases from the inside of the lungs into and out of the blood vessels that surround these alveoli an easy process.

COPD is the process of the progressive destruction of these alveoli. Eventually, there are no longer very tiny bubbles, but as the walls break the bubbles coalesce, making them bigger and therefore with less surface area to exchange gases less efficient. Clearly, one goal of therapy is to try to create the healthiest, most pliable alveoli possible.

Anyone who as a child made little soap bubbles through those plastic rings knows that the integrity of the bubbles is dependent on the mixture of the soap in the bottle. Too little soap and the bubbles don’t hold together, too much and the bubbles don’t form. Our alveoli are similar.

They are also make from a kind of soap called surfactant which in its proper form create elastic flexible alveoli. Surfactant, like any bubble, is a fat, or more specifically a lipid envelope. The integrity of the alveoli has everything to do with the type of fat in our blood, from which it is made.

Specifically the research has shown that if the blood contains high amounts of trans-fats through the consumption of processed fats, margarine, or hydrogenated oils the alteration of the chemistry of the fats creates bubbles that are too stiff and therefore prone to rupture.

When the alveoli are made from fats that are highly polyunsaturate (mostly vegetable oils, or man-made fats and oils), the alveoli are too flexible and are therefore weak. These findings exactly correlate with the epidemiology studies that show that when cultures exchange their traditional fats for the new modern processed foods that is when smoking begins to produce epidemics of illness that were not seen in traditional native cultures who also use tobacco quite liberally.

The best fats for building healthy alveoli are the mostly saturated fats found in traditional animal foods (butter, lard, etc.) and those found in tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. When treating COPD these are the ONLY fats allowed in the diet besides 1 Tbsp per day of olive oil.

The Nourishing Traditions diet with its liberal use of good fats and the fermented foods that help with fat digestion is the perfect foundation in any program for the recovery from COPD. The only particular food worth mentioning for COPD is betaine which is a major component of beet roots and leaves.

It is also a component of any dark green leafy vegetable. Betaine seems to help with digestion particularly of the fats which therefore allows them to be available to be used by the body to "make" alveoli.


  • Atheroma is a mass of yellowish fatty and cellular material that forms in and beneath the inner lining of the arterial walls.
  • Phospholipids are the major structural lipids (fats) of most of our cellular membranes.
  • Bleb is a blister or a bubble.
  • Bullectomy is the surgical removal of a bleb.