COPD and Weight Loss: Navigating the Balance for Better Health

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) arises from lung damage that restricts airflow. It is known to include symptoms such as persistent cough, excessive mucus, breathing difficulties, and chest tightness but the symptoms are not limited to these. Today, we would like to discuss another issue that comes along with COPD, namely weight loss. COPD patients with pulmonary cachexia syndrome* often experience significant weight loss, exceeding 5-10% of initial body weight or falling below 90% of ideal body weight.
In order to grasp the aspect of weight in COPD, one should firstly understand why nutrition plays such an important role in managing COPD. As nutrition and metabolism go hand in hand, one should also understand what exactly we talk about when we say metabolism: Metabolism is the process of converting food into energy by transforming oxygen and nutrients into carbon dioxide and energy that the body needs to function. And breathing requires more energy in individuals with COPD, since their muscles may require significantly (almost ten times) more calories than those who do not have COPD.
How does the diet change or help improve this? Well, it is proven that breathing ease can be influenced by the type of food consumed. So what is recommended? Opting for a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in fat may result in easier breathing, as the metabolism of carbohydrates produces more carbon dioxide relative to oxygen, meaning less energy, while fat metabolism generates the least carbon dioxide and the most energy.
Now back to weight loss. As mentioned earlier, COPD patients with pulmonary cachexia syndrome often experience significant weight loss, exceeding 5-10% of initial body weight. There are various factors that are known to contribute to this condition, including tissue hypoxia, disuse atrophy, changes in metabolism, oxidative stress, aging, inflammation, and medication use (e.g., glucocorticoids) and malnutrition. While naming the reasons for weight loss, one can also speak of a reduced dietary intake due to factors such as loss of appetite, decreased physical activity, depression tendencies, or dyspnea during eating. These factors all lead to a reduction in body mass observed among COPD patients.
Having gone over the “why” part of this issue, we shall now concentrate on the consequences of weight loss. It is shown by clinical studies that the underweight COPD patients face serious complications, which causes the weakening of the immune system that leads to an increase of infection risks. Other than that, the feeling of fatigue makes daily tasks challenging. In order to counter this, the only thing to do is to maintain a healthy weight.
Tips on nutrition and more can be found in our article by clicking here. Weight management can be properly done by eating small, having frequent meals, choosing higher-calorie foods, reducing fluid intake during meals, staying hydrated between meals, avoiding bloating triggers, and considering nutritional supplements. In addition to these, simplifying meal preparation and paying attention to mental health are also emphasized.
Overall, it is to conclude that managing the conditions that COPD brings along improves the status of health and quality of life. In your journey of prioritizing a healthy weight and a nutrient-rich diet, the smartest thing to do would be seeking guidance from a registered dietitian or healthcare professional for personalized advice.
Here at Breathment we care about improving the quality of your life with COPD in all its aspects. Be it about nutrition or mental health, we provide reading materials about the most important aspects of COPD in the Breathment Therapy App, beside the exercises assigned to you by your personal physiotherapist. Book an appointment with us now to let us help your journey with COPD.