Take a deep breath
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathing deeply to fill our lungs with fresh, life-sustaining oxygen is something we take for granted. Only when a respiratory condition interferes with our breathing do we fully appreciate the ability to do it freely and clearly. Fighting to breathe due to inflammation, coughing, excess mucous production or an auto-immune response to allergies or toxins is surely one of the most uncomfortable experiences in life.
Breathing is not only necessary to life, but when done properly, can contribute to better overall health. As Andrew Weil, MD, the well-known natural medicine educator states, “Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.”1 Of course, we cannot achieve these higher levels of breathing until we are breathing clearly.
The respiratory system
The respiratory system is made up of several organs that interact to inhale oxygen and deliver it where required by the body, while exhaling carbon dioxide from the system. Respiration occurs in the lungs, the essential organ of the respiratory system. The right and left lungs of the human body are responsible for taking in oxygen and getting it into the blood stream. Oxygen is inhaled through the mouth or nose, then through the pharynx, larynx and trachea. An organ called the diaphragm is the pump that generates the inhalation of oxygen and the exhalation of carbon dioxide, much like a blacksmith’s bellow. From the trachea, oxygen enters the bronchi of the lungs, where the gas is brought into the lungs. Oxygen then is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the alveoli air sacs of the lungs in a diffusion process and enters the bloodstream. There are over 480 million alveoli in a human lung.
There are numerous respiratory conditions which can adversely affect the breathing abilities of humans. Three of the major lung conditions are the “chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases” (COPD): bronchitis, asthma and emphysema.
Bronchitis – Bronchitis is a condition of the lungs where the bronchial tubes become inflamed and obstructed. The associated inflammation of the bronchial tubes can lead to breathing complications due to excess mucous, coughing, fever, sore throat, chills and shaking.
Bronchitis can take two different forms: acute and chronic. Infections, colds or flus are the common causes of acute bronchitis. Generally, acute bronchitis resolves in a few weeks, but can lead to more severe conditions such as pneumonia.
Chronic or reoccurring bronchitis is most common in those with allergies, those working in occupations with unhealthy respiratory conditions and smokers. Chronic bronchitis also makes the oxygen exchange in the lungs more difficult, which can put stress on the heart.
Asthma – Asthma is a disease of the lungs that interferes with the airways, often in the form of a sudden “attack.” Often asthma involves the body’s immune system reacting to an allergen as a threat, causing inflammation and hypersensitivity in the airways. When the bronchial tubes get inflamed and filled with excess mucous, an asthma attack can be triggered and the inflammation worsens.
Asthma sufferers often experience a difficulty in breathing, with coughing, wheezing and tightness of the chest during an asthma episode. These symptoms occur when the muscles around the bronchi constrict, limiting the flow of oxygen.
There are two types of asthma, allergic and nonallergic. Allergic asthma can be caused by any allergen, which can include mold, food allergens (e.g. dairy, wheat), animal dander, chemicals or pollutants. Nonallergenic asthma can be triggered by bronchitis, weather changes, stress, and low blood sugar or may be passed on genetically from a previous generation.
The increase in atmospheric pollution on Earth is associated with a recent increase in the incidence of asthma.2
An asthma attack can become a form of emphysema if not treated and can even be life-threatening due to the interference with breathing. It is important to have a doctor or health care practitioner properly diagnose asthma for correct treatment.
Emphysema – Emphysema is a lung disease associated with tobacco smoke or exposure to pollution. People with emphysema have damaged alveoli – the small air sacs located in the lungs. This damage reduces lung elasticity which in turn makes exhaling difficult and interferes with the oxygen exchange procedure. Typical health effects of emphysema include continual shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, lung infections and general inflammation of the lungs.
Other respiratory conditions include the following:
Common cold – The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract typically occurring in the fall or winter. The most common virus that causes a common cold is a rhinovirus. The symptoms of a common cold often include congestion, sore throat, coughing and sneezing. An extended cold can lead to bronchitis or sinus infection.
Influenza – Influenza, or “the flu” for short, is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. The flu is extremely contagious, spread by sneezing and coughing, entering the body through the body’s airways. The symptoms are similar to those of the common cold – dry throat and cough, congestion, body aches, tiredness, hot and cold sweats – but typically last longer, sometimes up to two weeks.
Allergies – Allergic reactions can occur in the body when the body’s immune defense system overreacts to a normally nontoxic substance, damaging the body itself.
There are many substances that can cause an allergic reaction in humans: molds, dust, pollen, metals, animal hair or dander, insect bites, certain foods (e.g. nuts, dairy, wheat) and chemicals. Allergic side-effects can include congestion, wheezing, coughing, impaired breathing and swallowing, rashes, itchy eyes or skin and tiredness. Some allergies are seasonal; the most common being hay fever. The symptoms of hay fever are very similar to the common cold, but tend to last longer.
Pneumonia – Pneumonia is yet another inflammatory condition of the lung, primarily affecting the alveoli. Pneumonia is most commonly caused by viral or bacterial infections (or a combination), particularly the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. Influenza and rhinovirus viruses are also common causes of pneumonia. The symptoms of pneumonia can include cough, fever, chills chest pain and difficult or short breathing.
Cystic fibrosis – Cystic fibrosis or CF is a genetically inherited disease affecting mostly Caucasians. CF is genetic mutation that can affect several glands in the body. With regards to the respiratory system, CF can cause the overproduction of thick mucous which can block the airways to the lungs resulting in breathing difficulties. Further, this blockage in the lungs makes for ideal growing conditions for bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacteria can infect the lungs causing inflammation, making breathing even worse and compromising the immune system.
Herbs useful for respiratory conditions
After reading about the various respiratory issues and diseases that afflict humans, you will notice that most have common, overlapping symptoms. Congestion, inflammation, excess mucous, difficulty breathing and an overreaction by the body’s immune system are all found across the respiratory conditions. Fortunately, there are some ways to get natural relief from these aggravating symptoms.
Traditional herbal medicine has discovered a number of plant materials that can help alleviate some of the symptoms of these various conditions, separately or in combination.
|Marshmallow root||(Traditionally) used in Herbal Medicine (as a demulcent) to relieve the irritation and inflammation of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa and associated dry cough.3
The German Commission E has approved marshmallow root for dry coughs (hacking coughs), mucous control and throat irritations. Marshmallow root has also been used for laryngitis treatment.4
|Nettle herb top||Used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.5
Nettle herb, or stinging nettle, increases the production of T cells which help to control allergic responses. Particularly effective for hay fever and has been used for food sensitivities.6
|Ginger root||Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine as an expectorant and anti-tussive to help relieve bronchitis as well as coughs and colds.7
|Astragalus root||Traditionally used in TCM to tonify (stimulate) the lungs and is used for frequent colds.8
Used in Herbal Medicine to help maintain a healthy immune system.9
|Thyme leaf||Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine as an expectorant to help relieve the symptoms of bronchitis and catarrhs of the upper respiratory tract (anti-catarrh).10
Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve coughs (spasmolytic).
Thyme stimulates the hairs of the bronchial passages which expels mucous.11
|Linden flower||Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve coughs and irritation of the throat in colds and catarrh of the respiratory tract.12
|Fenugreek seed||Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine as an expectorant to help relieve excess mucous of the upper respiratory passages (anti-catarrhal).13
Fenugreek also has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for fever, coughs and bronchitis.14
|Cloves||The oil of cloves have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.15|
|Honey||Honey has antibacterial properties and is soothing on the throat.|
|Eucalyptus||Eucalyptus has been used in aboriginal remedies for opening congested nasal passages, and alleviating allergies and coughs.16|
|Cinnamon||Cinnamon has antibacterial and antifungal properties.17|
Respir-First is useful for alleviating a number of respiratory-related conditions:
- Relieving bronchitis
- Relieving coughs and colds
- Relieving dry cough
- Helping to suppress coughs
- Relieving seasonal allergies • Relieving excessive mucous
- Tonifying (stimulating) weak lungs
- Relieving irritation of oral and pharyngeal mucosa
- Relieving irritation of the throat
- Strengthening the immune system
Recommended use: Traditionally used in Herbal Medicine as an expectorant and anti-tussive to help relieve bronchitis as well as coughs and colds. Used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms. (Traditionally) used in Herbal Medicine (as a demulcent) to relieve the irritation of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa and associated dry cough.
Recommended dose: Adults take 1 tablespoon (15 ml) three times per day. Take a few hours before or after taking other medication or natural health products.
Free from artificial flavour or colour, corn, gluten, wheat, lactose, dairy, soy, yeast and GMO materials.
www.drweil.com “Three breathing exercises”
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Nutritional Healing.” 4th edition. 2006. P 224.
NHPD, Health Canada. Single ingredient monograph: Marshmallow Root.
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd Edition.” Avery. 2012. p. 98.
NHPD, Health Canada. Single ingredient monograph: Nettle Root.
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd Edition.” Avery. 2012. p. 142.
NHPD, Health Canada. Single ingredient monograph: Ginger.
NHPD, Health Canada. Single ingredient monograph: Astragalus.
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd Edition.” Avery. 2012. p. 28.
NHPD, Health Canada. Single ingredient monograph: Thyme.
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd Edition.” Avery. 2012. p. 144.
NHPD, Health Canada. Single ingredient monograph: Linden flower.
NHPD, Health Canada. Single ingredient monograph: Fenugreek.
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd Edition.” Avery. 2012. p. 67.
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd Edition.” Avery. 2012. p. 50.
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd Edition.” Avery. 2012. p. 65.
Balch, Phyllis A., “Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd Edition.” Avery. 2012. p. 49.