Welcome to the second episode of the Freediving Podcast by Renee Blundon. This episode is part two about nutrition to improve your lung health and lung function for freediving while at the same time, improving your immune system to make it more resilient to COVID-19 and other viruses and bacteria.
This episode will focus on vitamin D and N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) in detail and will also touch on a few other important vitamins and nutrients. We’ll also cover some super interesting info about the oxidative stress and free-radical damage caused in in the body from freediving, and what foods and supplements can help your freediving recovery.
This podcast can be helpful other athletes who are looking to improve their breathing and lung capacity, or anyone really who wants to improve their lung and respiratory health, which at the same time helps to improve your overall health and therefore your quality of living.
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Please enjoy this transcript of this podcast episode.
Hello and welcome to episode two of the Freediving Podcast, your source for information about training for freediving, not only so you can freedive better but so you can live the most healthy and EPIC life possible.
I am your host, Renee Blundon, and as always I will offer information about; how to improve your health and nutrition for freediving, how to improve your fitness for freediving, your breathing and mental training, as well as helpful advice and training concepts for freediving in an enjoyable, safe and sustainable way.
This podcast represents the efforts of my own personal research and my trial and error with my freediving training, as well as hopefully, eventually the combined efforts of a public open source information network which I invite you to join on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/freedivingpodcast, all are welcome!
If you wish to get additional podcasts they will be on the website at reneeblundon.com/podcast. There you can also sign-up for my newsletter which begins going out next Friday!
And any questions can be sent to me at [email protected]
I am a competitive freediver and freediving instructor trainer and my only goal here is to provide information to help freedivers all over the world improve their freediving performances in a smart and healthy way to hopefully avoid suffering from an injury, black-out or LMC, over-training issues, and other accidents and health issues related to freediving training.
Thank you for listening!
Ok, so having done the introduction, let’s get right into the podcast!
This episode is part two of Nutrition for Freediving and for Improving your Lung Capacity.
If you haven’t listened to part one of the Nutrition for Freediving, I’d suggest that you listen to that episode first because this is basically a continuation of what I was talking about there, it was supposed to be one episode, but I had some technical difficulties so it ended up being cut in half into two episodes
Anyway in that first episode I went over; the lung issues in freediving, and how these issues seem to be increasing, I spoke quite a bit about the Measles virus, because it’s a severe respiratory infection which I think we can learn from, just by looking at how they naturally treat and prevent this disease, and one of the natural remedies they’re using, is Vitamin A, which boosts the immune system and makes the lungs and respiratory system stronger, and more resilient, so obviously it’s going to improve your health for freediving and I’d hypothesize you’d have less chances of a lung injury and of over-training, and better recovery, etc.
And then I also covered which foods and types of supplements are the best sources for Vitamin A, as well as some information about Omega-6 oils and omega balance and how that can effect your lungs and your breathing.
And so with Vitamin A, covered a lot in the last episode, today I’m going to get into some other helpful vitamins to improve your lungs for freediving.
So, I’ll be going over Vitamin D and N-Acetyl Cysteine and I’ll also just touch on a few other vitamins and amino acids.
So basically, the lung issues that freedivers can consider the nourishment side of the equation to help improve the lungs and the respiratory system, are things like:
Those I would say are the most common scenarios that apply to freedivers, in which this information can be helpful for.
So besides Vitamin A, another vitamin which can make all the difference in the world in making your lungs stronger and healthier for freediving, is VITAMIN D!
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that your body needs for so many vital processes.
Most people already know that vitamin D is needed by the body to keep your bones, and your teeth and muscles healthy but it’s also super important for the lungs! Because it helps reduce inflammation in the lungs, it improves lung function, and your respiratory muscle strength as well as your immune response to various respiratory pathogens.
Here’s an interesting article that actually mentions a bit about the history of Vitamin D (I’m always super interested in history in case you haven’t noticed!)
And it’s from theconversation.com, and it’s called ‘Why Taking Vitamin D Pills Could Help the Fight Against TB and HIV’, and it’s written by Anna Coussens and Allison Seeger.
And there’s a part here that says:
“The link between vitamin D and treatment for TB (Tuberculosis) came from antiquated practice. These include giving patients cod liver oil, rich in vitamin A and D, and sunbathing TB patients in sanatoriums or under light therapy.”
And in the article, which is linked on the podcast page, you can see a black and white photo which has like 20 hospital beds with people in them, all the beds lined up outside in the sunlight.
And it’s pretty neat to see how hospitals back around 1840 or so used to use these naturalpathic remedies, in this case just plain old sunlight and cod liver oil, to help treat respiratory infections – and then somewhere I read, it might’ve been in the same article, somewhere it said that the sunlight and cod liver oil helped patients recover, even faster than normal drug treatment
You certainly don’t see that now-adays. Hospitals aren’t wheeling people in their hospital beds out into the sunlight giving them spoon fulls of cod liver oil, instead people are inside all day, just taking pills and eating cafeteria food. Interesting how times change
And the sunlight and thr cod liver oil wasn’t just used for people sick with respiratory infections, it was also traditionally used just for keeping people healthy especially in the northern regions of the world during wintertime.
And this they were doing this even before we knew really anything about vitamins – at that time, they hadn’t isolated Vitamin D, or Vitamin A. That didn’t happen until about 70 years later, vitamin A and vitamin D weren’t discovered until 1913.
And so anyway this can start to illustrate the importance of vitamin D for supporting your lungs and your respiratory system in being stronger and healthier for freediving.
So cod liver oil, how is it that it’s so effective in helping to produce vitamin D in the body
It states in that same article that:
“The way that vitamin D works against TB wasn’t unraveled until the early 1980’s when it was discovered that the active form of vitamin D could be produced in immune cells. Nearly two decades later it was discovered that vitamin D caused these immune cells to make a small protein with anti-microbial properties that could kill the TB bacteria”
So basically what happens, when you have something like cod liver oil which has high vitamin D content – bad bacteria of the respiratory infections gets killed off by the body, and the cod liver oil helps to develop these little anti-microbials which help kill off this bad bacteria.
So to zoom in a little bit more, there’s this protein that’s made in the lungs (and it’s also made in many other tissues of the body), and this particular protein falls into a family of proteins called cathelicidins.
And cathelicidins are actually able to kill bad bacteria in the lungs, like the TB bacteria for example, but really any bacteria or virus.
So the cathelicidins are produced in your cells, and vitamin D helps activate the production of them,
So if you’re very low vitamin D, you’re probably not going to make enough of these cathelicidins. Which means, you don’t have them as part of your immune system, so they won’t be there to directly kill the bacteria, microbes and viruses that come at you, so you’re gonna basically get every cold and infection that’s going around, battle with lung issues
AND freediving won’t be as easy and joyful as it could be just because you’re lacking important nutrients which is such an important part of the freediving recovery process
And that’s a big part of the reason why a lot of freedivers get sick and get injuries and why you probably don’t feel as strong and healthy in the winter time as you do in the summer time
Even Dahab can get quite cold in the winter time, I think just about every freediver I know gets sick at least once or twice in the winter season here, even myself being one of them!
If you think about the flu season, there’s a reason why it always happens in the darkest days of the year and not the sunniest days of the year! Because the BEST source of of vitamin D we produce from sunlight, and so our vitamin D levels are the lowest in the winter months, a little bit better in the Spring and Fall, and then we have the highest amount of vitamin D in the Summer.
And this is because in so many places in the world, the sun just isn’t strong enough in those darker months of the year to give us the kind of ultraviolet level exposure that we need to produce vitamin D and also it’s cold in a lot of places, so we’re all covered up. All of our skin is covered up, so the vitamin can’t get absorbed.
And that’s why winter time, in both hemispheres, correlates with more often getting sick, and colds, and congestion, blocked sinuses,
and from what I’ve noticed in other freedivers who train here in the wintertime, and with my own training in the wintertime, there’s definitely an increase in missed training sessions and lung and trachea squeezes.
I’ve had basically two very minor lung squeezes where I came up from a dive, and both times happen to be in the winter, I don’t think it’s any coincidence.
Now probably skeptics out there are thinking, ah well you’re diving in a thicker wetsuit, so you’re not as flexible, you’re wearing more weights, you’re diving in colder water so less relaxation, and yes I’m sure all of that doesn’t help either with squeeze issues.
But I’d put my money on it, that the main reason is because of having a lack of vitamin D and other nutrients, because looking back I remember that my overall physical and mental health is down in the winter. It’s like night and day comparing my summer health and energy to my winter health and energy levels. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels like that!
So, it’s NOT that all those lung issues aren’t there all year round, they definitely are!
But it’s that OUR RESISTANCE to lung issues and such is much better when our Vitamin D levels are stronger, which is usually in the summer months.
And not only does vitamin D help to produce cathelicidins, but it also boosts many of the other immune factors; the white blood cells, t-cells and lots of the different players in the immune system!
And when you battle with things like blocked sinuses, getting a cold virus, recovering or trying to prevent COVID-19 – (which is obviously) more serious, and freediving recovery, improving lung capacity and so forth, Vitamin D becomes a part of the conversation which is not something a lot of freedivers probably don’t think about.
Many freedivers listening might be living in warm, sunny climates so they may be thinking that ah I don’t need to worry about vitamin D, and probably you don’t until the winter season, if you have a winter season.
But just note that if you want to get vitamin D from the sun, which is what I’d personally recommend, it’s called the “the sunshine vitamin” for a reason because the sun is really one of the best sources of this nutrient…
How it works is your skin hosts a type of cholesterol that functions as a precursor to vitamin D and so when this compound is exposed to UV-B radiation from the sun, it becomes vitamin D.
And sun-derived vitamin D they say circulates for twice as long as vitamin D than from food or supplements, so obviously a lot better.
But the amount of vitamin D that your body can make via sun light depends on several variables.
For example, your skin tone. People with darker skin need to spend more time in the sun to produce vitamin D than people with lighter skin, because darker skin has more melanin, which is a compound that can inhibit vitamin D production.
Also, age can have an impact, as you get older, the vitamin D production in your skin becomes less efficient.
Then your geographical location can make a difference, so the closer you live to the equator, the more vitamin D you’ll be able to produce almost year-round because of your physical proximity to the sun’s rays.
If you live farther away from the equator, than you have less opportunities for adequate sun exposure which decreases the amount of vitamin D you can produce.
Then also keep in mind certain types of clothing can hinder or block vitamin D production. So for example, obviously wetsuits, or long clothing, you’re not getting a whole lot of vitamin D.
And then if you put sunblock on, which most freedivers do, it can definitely hinder or even block vitamin D production.
So I’m not recommending to go out without any suncream, if you’re light skinned like me you’ll end up sunburned all the time and like a lobster like me,
But just know that it doesn’t take long for your body to start producing Vitamin D, they say that it takes 8-15 minutes to make plenty of vitamin D if you have light skin, maybe a bit more time for people who are darker skin, so you can go in the sun for 20 minutes without sun block and then after that put sunblock on, just an idea.
Fortunately, because of COVID-19, I think there’s been even more interest in health and nutrition and vitamin D these days among freedivers, because we all want to stay strong and healthy, so we can keep freediving
And now most of the freedivers that I know here in Dahab who are very healthy already, it seems they’re erring on the side of caution, being more conservative with their freediving training, there’s like zero competitions scheduled, Blue Hole has been closed for months and very expensive and complicated to arrange a record attempt, so really not sure it’s the best time to be doing crazy training and pushing your limits and pushing your body and immune system with a pandemic floating around! That we don’t know much about.
But it’s a great time to assess your nutrition to improve your health for freediving, and so you definitely want to make sure you’re getting enough of these essential nutrients.
And this you can so easily do just by adding certain foods to your diet or through supplementation, which I’ll talk about in just a bit!
But first let’s discuss how to know if your vitamin D levels are low? Maybe you have nothing to worry about at all!
So should you go to get a Vitamin D test in order to know, and if so, what do you look for, how do you interpret the results of the test?
Well in my research of Vitamin D tests, there is a blood test you can get done, BUT just a note about that.
There’s been this pretty odd change sometime in the last decade or so in the US, anyway, not sure about other places, that used to say that the normal levels of vitamin D in nano-grams per millilitre should be somewhere between 30 and 100 of these nano-grams per millilitre.
And now, because so many people, their levels were testing below 30, they sort of reconstructed the conversation, saying that if you’re in the 20’s then you’re probably fine.
So there are doctors and educators out there now saying that 20 is normal but it’s not normal, it’s basically a dumbing down of the system, and by changing the ‘normal ranges’, this isn’t doing anyone any favors when it comes to nutritional status.
For a regular person you should be above 30 when it comes to vitamin D levels, because that’s the range that promotes better resistance to infections and making your lungs strong and healthy.
But 30 is definitely the very bottom of normal when it comes to vitamin D levels, so as a freediver, I’d suggest that you get yourself more in the range of 40-60, this way your lungs are even healthier and so can recover better between dives, and training sessions and you’ll less likely have lung injuries and miss days of training.
Because being in that range of 40-60 is when you’re going to have enough circulating vitamin D to activate to the hormone, which is a very active form of vitamin D, and really boosts the function of immune cells that are dealing with all of those issues
Sunlight is obviously the best source of vitamin D as I mentioned before, but if you’re not able to get enough vitamin D from the sun because of your location or because of the season, like I mentioned earlier, cod liver oil is probably THE BEST food for vitamin D, and vitamin A as well.
Other great food sources for vitamin D are:
If you don’t have access to those foods or if you just don’t eat those foods because you’re on a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can definitely try supplementing with vitamin D.
Until you get a vitamin D test and find out where you are, what I used to take when I supplemented is 5,000 units per day.
Then if you take a vitamin D test, if you’re super deficient, you can ask your doctor how much you should take. So that’s everything I have on vitamin D!
So, next I thought we could touch base on N-Acetyl Cysteine, another nutrient that’s also quite important to consider for freediving and for improving your lungs and respiratory system.
And the reason why N-Acetyl Cysteine is so important is because it’s an amino acid, that along with two other amino acids, glutamine and glycine, NAC is needed to make and replenish something called glutathione. And glutathione is actually one of the body’s most important antioxidants!
Glutathione neutralizes the free radicals that can damage cells and tissues in your body. It’s absolutely essential for immune health and for fighting cellular damage, and so important for your freediving recovery, especially if you’re doing deep dives or repetitive dives where oxidative damage can be quite an issue.
Now I was fortunate to find some excellent sources on the oxidative stress caused from freediving. This is quite well known about I think at this point, I’m pretty sure it’s in all of the freediving school’s level three freediving course materials.
I found one study here, titled: Oxidative Stress in Breath-Hold Divers After Repetitive Dives
And it says that in basically the conclusion of the study:
“After breath-hold diving, more circulating nitric oxide (NO) is observed with an increase in peroxynitrites (ONOO-) and a reduction of thiols (R-SH). Nitric oxide may be produced by the physical effort of breath-hold diving. Physical exercise, the transient hyperoxia (excessive oxygen) followed by hypoxia (low oxygen) and accumulation of carbon dioxide increase the level of superoxide an-ion. This facilitates interaction of superoxide anion with nitric oxide to form peroxynitrites, opposed to a production of R-SH. Oxidative stress is thus present in breath-hold diving.”
So let me break this down for you,
When you resurface from a freedive, you have a lot more nitric oxide and peroxynitrites in the body, just as a result of the physical effort of the dive.
And nitric oxide and peroxynitrites (also known as nitrogen dioxide) are free radicals, with an unpaired electron. And since it’s missing one of its electrons, it steals an electron from your stable molecules, therefore damaging your healthy cells.
And so if you have a lot of this happening, and you don’t eat, rest and hydrate properly after your dives, the free radicals can cause a lot of harm to your body, they say over time it can also cause aging, heart disease and even some cancers. So obviously not good.
And that’s why the amino acids are so important for recovery, the N-Acetyl Cysteine, helps your body produce and replenish glutathione, and this super powerful anti-oxidant goes in and basically donates one of their own electrons, so your molecules are spared the damage.
So right after the dive you have an INCREASE in the free radicals which why you want to consume anti-oxidants, AND YOU ALSO HAVE a reduction of, what’s called, thiols (R-SH) which, from what I understand, are basically sulfides in the body,
With a lack of sulfides, you have a lack of sulfur – which is THE MOST IMPORTANT element in detoxification. In your liver you have these various enzymes that turn toxins into harmless particles, and a lot of these enzymes are sulfur based.
And sulfur’s also involved with the 3 amino acids (cystein, glutamine and glycine) which helps produce the glutathione in the body, so with a lack of thiols or sulfides you’re lacking in sulfur for detoxification, and your glutathione production is taking another hit because of this as well.
So all of that, that I just said, combined with
all of this increases superoxide anion, which is free radical damage.
And all of that together explains why oxidative stress is a major issue in freediving.
Another website I was on put it simply as:
When you resurface from a freedive, and take that first breath, your oxygen-deprived cells are flooded with oxygen. And since so much oxygen is metabolized, there’s a corresponding burst of free radical damage.
But as I explained, it’s much more complex than that, and probably even much more complex than what I explained. But you get the idea. What’s important to take away from this is you want to make sure you’re getting the N-Acetyl Cysteine in your food or supplementation so that you’re helping your body to produce and replenish glutathione which is a SUPER powerful anti-oxidant that’s just absolutely essential for recovery from the oxidative stress in freediving.
And another cool thing about NAC is it’s another one of these elements that improves the body’s ability to resist being harmed by toxic compounds that come into the body, so for example COVID 19 and other viruses and bacterias, whether you swallow them or breathe them in or that you touch or absorb them through the skin. It’s the glutathione which as an antioxidant enzyme, it’s SO important in helping the body in all the areas where the body’s surface areas interact with the environment.
The lungs being a case in point.
Because the lungs, what do they do? They breathe in air and the air goes in through the surfaces of the lungs, right into circulation in the body, and the oxygen from the air, helps oxygenate all of our cells, and then you breathe out the carbon dioxide. Without breath there is no life.
But if you breathe-in contaminated air…
Those viruses, bacterias, pollution and dust, all end up in the bloodstream too and circulating in the body. Just common sense tells me that can’t be good for your breath-hold or your red blood cell oxygen carrying capabilities.
And so that’s actually we end up with a lot of these respiratory issues, like for example, someone sneezes in our face, or maybe someone is exhaling in a space that’s very close to us, like the next person in the airplane, or the person across the counter from you at grocery store or any crowded scenario.
And the other thing is that we touch surfaces with our hands, and then put our hands are near our mouth, or near our nose, we get contaminated, so basically any areas where we are most likely to interact with the environment, the body produces a lot of glutathione to make your immune system more resilient against these things. And for glutathione you need N-Acetyl Cysteine.
There’s an article here on covid19-evidence.paho.org called:
‘N-Acetylcysteine: ‘A Rapid Review of the Evidence for Effectiveness in Treating COVID-19’
And it states that:
‘N-acetylecysteine (NAC) was introduced in the 1960s as a mucolytic drug for chronic respiratory diseases, and it is still commonly used orally at doses of 600mg per day as a mucolytic. Acetylcysteine makes bronchial mucous less viscous. In vitro, cystein derivatives act by breaking disulphide bridges between macromolecules, which leads to a reduction in mucus viscosity. However at higher doses, equal or greater than 1200mg, acetylcystein also acts as an antioxidant through complex mechanisms which can combat conditions of oxidative stress”
“It is this potential antioxidant mechanism that has sparked interest with the current COVID-19 pandemic and whether this might by useful in community settings. Therefore, we aimed to conduct a rapid review of NAC with specific emphasis on its potential for early administration in the community for patients at a greater risk of severe COVID-19”
So basically NAC is something that makes any mucous you have in the lungs less viscous and it restates here the fact that it acts as an antioxidant that combats oxidative stress, reducing inflammation because of it’s vasodilator properties, and now they’re studying it for helping people be more protected against severe COVID-19
And if that’s not enough to convince you, I also found out, I read somewhere that quite a few researchers believe NAC may even contribute to longevity, because of the incredible antioxidant properties that are just so important for combating many ailments and such caused by oxidative stress, it’s been shown to improve mental issues, infertility and certain diseases.
So N-Acetyl Cysteine, which foods do you find it in?
It’s another one of those nutrients that is found in EGGS, especially in the egg yolk.
I mentioned eggs in the first podcast, so this ties right in, make sure not to throw out the yolk! Eat the egg yolk if you want some of the more important nutrients that can be found in an egg, cysteine is an example of just one of many nutrients.
You can also find cysteine in garlic, cysteine’s basically a sulfur compound, and garlic is a sulfurous vegetable.
So in fact, most of the crusiferous vegetables are shown to give you really good antioxidants function, but a lot of that is because of the cysteine content.
Other foods high in cystine are:
You can also supplement with N-Acetyl Cysteine, if you don’t think you’re getting enough of those foods or if you have a history lung issues, it can be helpful to supplement with NAC as a part of your daily regime, since it’s really one of those things that can help the body produce more glutathione, which is going to help boost your immune system.
The recommended dose for N-Acetyl Cysteine 200 milligrams, some websites suggest doing multiple doses throughout the day, if you’re have a lung issue until you are feeling like you’re more resilient.
Oh and in the last podcast, I forgot to mention the supplementation for omega 3, for this the recommended dose is 1500 to 2000 of EPA + DHA, so make sure to read the label so you can confirm that that’s the amount you’re getting.
So, we between this episode and the last one, we talked about A LOT! I hope it’s all been very helpful to find out some interesting things about Vitamin A ,Vitamin D, Omega 3’s and balancing Omega 3’s and Omega 6, as well as NAC.
I know that a lot of times that when people think about improving the lungs and the respiratory system and the immune system, they go straight to Vitamin C, and I didn’t even talk about vitamin C, because there’s all these other nutrients that are also super important for resilience and resistance to viruses and infections, so I thought that I should spend more time on them rather than something like vitamin C.
But really everyone who pays attention to nutrition are going to understand the importance and needs for Vitamin C, for so many aspects of human health, we can’t live without it. We have to take it or get it in our food.
Probably in the future I’ll do an entire podcast episode just on vitamin C.
So those are I’d say the most important nutrients for supporting your lungs and respiratory system for freediving and to boost your immune system, so that you stay healthy and so you can better recover from the oxidative stress of freediving.
So any freediver who’s interested in improving their nutrition can go by the info in these two podcasts, if you can get your vitamins through food and lifestyle choices, for example just by getting enough sunlight, this is great. Otherwise, if you can’t, supplementation is an option.
So that will conclude this episode of the podcast. Next week I hope to have some more helpful information, and I’ll be changing the theme, I’m still deciding the next topics and will keep you posted.
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Thank you very much for listening 🙂