Diamonds are forever

More than 10 million men and women suffer from chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD). It’s the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. And according to the CDC, the disease is caused–at least in part–by inhaling noxious vapors, gases, and particles.

You probably do your best to avoid harmful vapors and gases. For instance, you know better than to bleach your bathroom with the doors and windows closed. And you don’t linger behind a ’57 Chevy pumping out black exhaust smoke.

But some particles in the air–called nanoparticles–are too small to see. They are so tiny, they’re measured in billionths of a meter (or nanometers). And they’re too small for you to knowingly avoid inhaling. But they can cause major problems in your airways.

In fact, science now shows that these nanoparticles can significantly impair your breathing.

Without a doubt, nanoparticle research is an up-and-coming scientific field. Engineering on a nanoscale allows scientists to build materials atom by atom. Scientists are also using nanotechnology to develop new ways of delivering medicines at a subcellular level.

Recently, scientists discovered that tiny nanoparticles in the air can affect your pulmonary “surfactant.” These surfactant molecules lubricate the lining of your lungs. Surfactant also helps oxygen in the air pass into the hemoglobin in red blood cells.

Last year, scientist Prajna Dhar studied the effects of nanoparticles on surfactant. She presented her findings in the scientific publication Biophysical Journal.

For the study, Dhar and her colleagues exposed lung surfactant to nanoparticles made of carbon. They described the carbon nanoparticles as “really tiny nano-diamonds.” They discovered that, in the short term, the nanoparticles didn’t affect surfactant or breathing.

But after 21 days of exposure, the nanoparticles began to lodge in the lungs. And this changed the way the surfactant “packed” when compressed by the exhaling lung.

According to Dhar, they witnessed changes similar to what happens to the lungs after a long period of excessive secondhand smoke exposure. At this nano-level, the lungs began to look like they belonged to someone with black lung disease. This disease occurs in coal miners who inhaled coal dust (also made of carbon) in enclosed spaces for many years.

Subscribers to my Insiders’ Cures learned about the benefits of acupuncture for anyone with COPD. You cannot explain the benefits of acupuncture for COPD along the lines of the actions caused by drugs or inhalers. So perhaps scientists should be looking at the effects of it on the “nano” subcellular level of surfactant.


1. Biophysical Journal, Volume 102, Issue 1, 56-65, 4 January 2012