What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, known as COPD, is the name used to describe a number of lung related conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD causes inflammation of the airways, resulting in them becoming narrower and producing mucous, making it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs.

The most common cause of COPD is smoking. It is a long term condition and over time can affect the whole body. In the UK, 900,000 people have been diagnosed with COPD, although the true number of people who are affected by COPD is thought to be 3 million.

How COPD affects nutrition

Inflammation of the airways and the extra effort required to breathe and carry out day to day activities increases the amount of energy (calories) and protein needed for a person with COPD to maintain their weight and strength. If these increased requirements are not met, weight loss may occur.

When breathing is difficult, it can also impact on our ability to eat. Coordinating chewing, swallowing and breathing with COPD can be challenging and may lead to anxiety around eating and reduced intake of food and fluid. This may also result in unintentional weight loss.

How good nutrition can help those with COPD 

Food provides us with energy and nutrients which are the substances the body needs to enable us to function every day. No single food provides us with the right mixture of these nutrients which is why we need to try and eat a varied balanced diet to keep well.

Good nutrition in COPD can help keep us fitter and stronger. Weight loss and, specifically, loss of muscle may worsen the symptoms associated with COPD such as shortness of breath and reduced physical fitness. Good nutrition can help to prevent this. Good nutrition also keeps the immune system strong, which reduces the risk of chest infections. In those with COPD, being a healthy weight, or even slightly above a healthy weight can reduce the number of complications experienced.

For those who have COPD and find it difficult to eat and drink enough the following might help:

• Eating small frequent nutritious meals, rather than fewer larger meals which can feel overwhelming when your appetite is poor
• Maximising intake during times of the day when you are feeling well or have the best appetite
• Having snacks and milky drinks between meals
• Choosing high calorie snacks, like cakes, cheese and crackers, nuts and dried fruit, toast with peanut butter
• Adding full fat milk, butter, cream, or cheese to sauces, soups, drinks and desserts

How oral nutritional supplements can help those with COPD 

Getting adequate nutrition from diet alone can be hard when experiencing shortness of breath, anxiety around eating and reduced strength. Healthcare professionals may prescribe oral nutritional supplements for those who cannot get adequate nutrition from diet alone. Oral nutritional supplements are specially designed to meet the nutritional needs of those with disease related malnutrition. They provide additional energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. They come in a range of flavours and formats including milkshakes, juices, yoghurt style, powders and desserts.

Why is it important for people with COPD to eat well? 

How can COPD affect your nutritional intake? 

What can I do if I am worried about my nutrition?  


Oral nutritional supplements are Foods for Special Medical Purposes and must be used under medical supervision.