A concise and accessible look into one of the body’s most “incredible” organs.
The heart, brain, and sex organs have long dominated popular health writing, but Covid-19 has raised the profile of the lungs; readers seeking a painless introduction will find it here. Pulmonologist Han, professor of medicine at the University of Michigan and national spokesperson for the American Lung Association, clearly has an abiding love for her favorite organ, which “provides our bodies with life-giving oxygen, rids us of excess carbon dioxide, and regulates the blood’s acid-base balance while also moving air past our vocal cords and nose, allowing us to speak, sing, and even smell.” Unfortunately, the lungs suffer from neglect in government and the health care industry; compared with heart disease, research on lung disease is trivial. We’re familiar with the blood pressure cuff, but few family doctors have a spirometer, a simple device that measures lung function. Han’s expert summary of lung diseases includes the familiar infections as well as asthma, emphysema, and lung cancer, still the leading malignancy. “Roughly 10 percent of long-term smokers will eventually be diagnosed with lung cancer,” she notes. Children of mothers who smoke during pregnancy suffer more respiratory illnesses, and if raised in a house where the parents smoke, they’re at higher risk of asthma as well as lung and ear infections. Cigarette smoking is unquestionably deleterious, but, as a physician, the author cannot generate enthusiasm for any method of quitting; she emphasizes that e-cigarettes, widely promoted as a safer alternative, are no such thing. The author also discusses why vaccines work superbly against infections and how diet and exercise prevent heart disease. However, there is only feeble evidence for any positive action to strengthen lungs. Mostly, it’s a matter of avoiding things. Not smoking is achievable, but avoiding air pollution is difficult; the same goes for secondhand smoke and innumerable chemicals, vapors, dusts, and molds.A fine primer to an essential organ.