Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung condition that causes inflammation and lung damage. Lifestyle changes such as an anti-inflammatory diet and supplements can help manage the symptoms.

COPD is a group of diseases that cause problems with airflow and breathing. This category includes emphysema (a condition that involves damage to the small air sacs in your lungs) and chronic bronchitis (inflammation that destroys the tiny hairs that line the airways of your lungs, causing them to become clogged with mucus).

COPD is just one of the many inflammatory health conditions. Other examples include metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and arthritis. An anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce inflammation in your body as part of managing these conditions.

Here’s what we know about the role of anti-inflammatory eating for COPD.

There are a few ways that diet may help lower inflammation in your body to help reduce COPD symptoms.

One way is by supporting the balance of bacteria in your gut. Trillions of organisms, including several types of bacteria, live in your digestive tract. These bacteria are constantly communicating with your immune system. They send messages to manage the number of inflammatory proteins your immune system releases.

Maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria can lower inflammation by reducing your body’s inflammatory immune response. A diet high in fiber helps nourish these good bacteria. Research suggests that a high fiber diet can:

  • help reduce inflammation
  • improve COPD symptoms
  • slow down COPD progression

Sources of fiber include:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • beans
  • lentils
  • oats
  • nuts
  • seeds

Inflammation damages your airways, and eating foods that contain antioxidants can help lower inflammation in your body. A 2024 study suggests that eating antioxidant-rich foods such as dark-colored fruits and vegetables can help heal some of this damage and protect your airways.

The following foods are also sources of antioxidants:

  • olive oil
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • some herbs and spices, such as rosemary, oregano, lemon balm, and saffron

The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are examples of anti-inflammatory eating patterns.

An anti-inflammatory diet features a variety of foods and provides plenty of fiber to support healthy gut bacteria. It’s also rich in antioxidants, which can reduce the damage caused by inflammation.

If you’re curious about trying an anti-inflammatory diet, here are some foods to include:

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables: Aim for a range of colors and types. A 2019 research review suggests that eating more fruits and vegetables is related to improvements in lung function.
  • Whole grains: Whole grains such as oats, barley, whole grain wheat, buckwheat, and quinoa contain fiber and antioxidants.
  • Beans and lentils: These are high in fiber and are a great source of magnesium. Some research, including a small 2022 study, suggests that there is a link between higher magnesium intake and fewer COPD exacerbations.
  • Nuts and seeds: These foods provide antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats, and protein.
  • Fish and seafood: Fish and seafood are the best types of animal protein to eat if you’re following an anti-inflammatory diet. They’re a big part of a Mediterranean diet, an eating pattern that is linked to lower levels of inflammation and better lung function.
  • Olive oil: Olive oil is another staple in a Mediterranean diet. It’s a source of healthy fats and antioxidants.
  • Other antioxidant sources: Antioxidants are also found in coffee, tea, garlic, ginger, and other herbs and spices.

A typical Western diet is often associated with low grade inflammation throughout the body.

This may be due to changes in the gut bacteria as a result of eating foods — especially highly processed foods — that are low in fiber and antioxidants and high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and saturated fat.

A Western diet is also linked with a faster progression of COPD.

Foods to limit include:

  • refined grains, such as grain products made with white flour
  • red meat — especially processed red meats such as sausages, salami, and hot dogs
  • fried foods
  • foods high in sugar, such as baked goods, desserts, soda, and candy

Sun exposure and foods such as fatty fish, fish liver oils, and milk are some of the best sources of vitamin D. However, supplements are a good addition if you’re not meeting the recommended intake.

A 2024 research review suggests that there is a connection between vitamin D supplements, improved lung function, and fewer COPD exacerbations. The researchers believe that vitamin D helps reduce inflammation and improve immune function.

The same review also found that taking a multivitamin and multimineral supplement may improve lung function in people with COPD. This could be due to better overall nutrient intake or to the antioxidant effects of several nutrients in the supplements.

According to a 2022 data analysis, people with COPD who have low levels of vitamins A, C, D, and E tend to have worse outcomes than people with COPD who have normal levels of those nutrients. You may want to look for a multivitamin supplement that contains those vitamins.

Diet can be a part of managing your COPD, but it won’t replace any treatments your doctor has recommended.

If you’re considering starting a supplement, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first.

It’s also important to follow up with your doctor after you make changes to your diet or supplement routine. Let them know if your symptoms are changing or getting worse. Also, remember that COPD is a chronic condition and that the way you manage it will change over time.

Many people with COPD are at risk of malnutrition. Living with COPD can increase the amount of energy your body uses. Plus, if you’re feeling short of breath, it takes extra energy to breathe, which in turn can make eating more difficult. All these factors can lead to malnutrition.

Malnutrition makes it harder to maintain your strength and can further reduce your lung function.

If you’re having trouble eating enough to maintain your health, here are some ideas:

  • Try to eat something every few hours, even if it’s just something small.
  • Have easy snacks and meals ready to eat.
  • Ask for help with grocery shopping and meal prep, or order premade meals if they’re within your budget.
  • Drink nutritional supplements to boost your calorie and protein intake.
  • Add higher calorie foods such as oil, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and avocado to your routine if you’re having trouble maintaining your weight.
  • Consider working with a registered dietitian who can help you boost your nutrient intake.

COPD is an inflammatory condition. Lifestyle strategies such as an anti-inflammatory diet can help decrease inflammation in your body as part of COPD management. Anti-inflammatory foods are high in fiber and antioxidants.

Malnutrition is also a concern for many people with COPD. Getting enough food is important to help maintain your lung function.