Respiratory System

Disorders of the respiratory system occur at all ages. In many countries the high level of environmental pollution in the past, together with the popularity of tobacco, has meant that there have always been many people suffering form respiratory conditions, particularly bronchitis.

Common diseases of the respiratory system may be related to infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or to allergies.

These conditions can range from making the sufferer uncomfortable to being potentially life-threatening. Often, these conditions aren't the type which would make you take out an Aviva life insurance policy, simply because they can be contracted unexpectedly. However, it is a good idea to be able to recognise the symptoms of such conditions, and what you might do to alleviate them.

Details are provided below about:

  • asthma,
  • hay fever
  • bronchitis
  • emphysema and COPD, and
  • the common cold and flu.

Asthma

Asthma is a type of airway obstruction characterized by a narrowing of the air passages in the lungs and caused by muscle spasm and mucus secretion.

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • breathlessness,
  • wheezing, and
  • tightness in the chest.

During an asthma attack the bronchial tubes become partially obstructed making breathing difficult. Attacks may be triggered by:

  • allergens, such as pollen, dust and other pollution including cigarette smoke, fur or dandruff;
  • food allergies or intolerances, such as aspirin, food additives, yeast or moulds on foods;
  • deficiencies, such as selenium, and vitamin B6;
  • strenuous exercise;
  • temperature changes - especially sudden exposure to cold air; or
  • stress and anxiety.

What you can do to help

  • Try to remove the source of the allergen if this is possible. Keep dust and pollen levels under control and avoid possible ingested allergens.
  • Don't smoke and do avoid pollutants.
  • Eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Onions are believed to have antiasthmatic properties and it is suggested that you have at least one cooked onion each day. It is best to avoid sugar and to eat a diet low in animal fats.
  • Vitamin C should be taken at 1g twice each day, for its antihistamine qualities.
  • Magnesium is thought to dilate the bronchial tubes, preventing a spasm and it also works to encourage a normal response to allergens. A daily supplement of 300 to 400 mg is suggested.
  • Vitamin B6, 50 to 100 mg per day, has been shown to reduce the number of asthma attacks in a group of patients.
  • B complex vitamins (10-20 mg per day).
  • Vitamin E 600 IU per day.
  • Antioxidants A (as beta-carotene) C and E as well as selenium should encourage recovery and prevent attacks.

Engage in exercise. Exercise precipitates asthma in some individuals, but regular physical exercise may actually reduce asthma tendencies. Swimming classes for children seem to be particularly worthwhile, especially in a warm, indoor pool.

Herbal remedies for asthma

Asthma will respond well to herbal remedies but it is impossible to give a herbal remedy that is appropriate to all cases. The various factors involved must be identified and remedies are chosen accordingly. Herbs that can reduce the spasm and ease breathing include:

  • grindelia,
  • lobelia,
  • mouse ear,
  • pill bearing spurge,
  • sundew and
  • wild cherry.

If there is sputum to be removed then expectorant herbs such as the following are useful.

  • aniseed,
  • blood root,
  • coltsfoot,
  • comfrey root,
  • licorice and
  • senega.

Where there is an allergic component the Chinese herb ephedra (Ma Hung) will be useful.

If the attacks sap the strength of the heart then the herb motherwort will be beneficial.

If any hypertension is involved then hawthorn and lime (linden) blossom will be useful.

If anxiety and tension are involved then also use hops, skullcap or valerian.

Note: If you have asthma never discontinue your pharmaceutical drug treatment unless you are under the supervision of a health professional.

The following remedy may be of assistance.

  • You need equal parts of any or all of the following herbs:
    • ground coffee beans
    • ground cocoa beans
    • Chinese ephedra (ma huang)
    • guarana,
    • guayusa
    • mate and
    • black or green tea
  • 1 cup water
  • powdered licorice root, anise or stevia

Combine the herbs of your choice. You need about as much of the combined herb as you would for a cup of coffee. Then add the cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes and let the mixture cool slightly. Strain the mixture before you drink it.

Add the powdered licorice root, anise or stevia to sweeten the drink if you wish.

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Hayfever

Hayfever is a reaction to an external allergenic substance. To treat and alleviate the symptoms of hayfever the following combination of herbs can be most effective.

  • 2 parts elder flowers
  • 1 part ephedra (ma hung)
  • 1 part eyebright
  • 1 part golden seal
  • 1 cup water

Combine the herbs . You need about as much of the combined herb as you would for a cup of coffee. Then add the cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes and let the mixture cool slightly. Strain the mixture before you drink it. Drink a 1 cup of this mixture 2 - 3 times per day.

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Bronchitis

The commonest acute lung infection is acute bronchitis. It can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the linings of the main air passages to the lungs.

The symptoms and signs include:

  • coughing that produces sputum,
  • there may be a high temperature, but usually it is mild,
  • breathlessness and wheezing, and
  • there may be soreness in the throat and chest.

Acute bronchitis starts as a respiratory infection and usually clears up in a few days. Chronic bronchitis is a serious long term condition and is primarily caused by smoking.

However chronic bronchitis does have a number of causes including:

  • Smoking [yes, it's worth repeating!] (which robs the body of essential vitamins and minerals) as well as damaging the airways and lungs and introducing toxins and carcinogenic substances into the body.
  • Pollution.
  • Deficiencies of vitamin C and zinc.

What you can do to help

  • The most important thing that you can do is to give up smoking and avoid co-smoking and smoke filled environments. Contact one of the many organisations that are able to assist you with this process.
  • If stress and anxiety are related to your smoking then look at dealing with these.
  • If you continue to smoke ensure that you get extra vitamin B complex and C.
  • Take 1g of vitamin C twice per day for a four to eight week period to encourage healing, boost the immune system and to act as a natural antihistamine.
  • Take 30 mg of zinc daily.
  • Make sure that you take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.

Herbal remedies for bronchitis

The best herbs to use are those that combine expectorant action (assist in removing sputum) and those that soothe the inflamed tissue. The best ones include:

  • aniseed,
  • angelica root,
  • blood root,
  • coltsfoot,
  • comfrey rot,
  • elecampane,
  • flaxseed,
  • hyssop,
  • lobelia,
  • lungwort,
  • mouse ear,
  • mullein,
  • senega,
  • thyme and
  • white horehound.

Antimicrobial herbs are also indicated to fight against any infection. Probably the most important one among many is garlic. Garlic may be taken in any form - raw, as garlic oil or as a capsule. The antiseptic oil in garlic is excreted through the lungs and so directly affects any bacteria there. Other good antimicrobials for the respiratory system include:

  • echinacea,
  • eucalyptus and
  • thyme.

In addition it would be useful to aid the lymphatic system, as it would be to assist in elimination. The herbs cleavers and poke root would be of assistance.

The following mixture would be useful for acute bronchitis.

  • 1 small cayenne pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed horseradish root
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 large onion
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • pinch of turmeric

Place the cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mustard, onion, and turmeric in a medium sized saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain the mixture and allow it to cool a little before drinking.

You may find the following steam inhalant helpful.

  • 1 handful of lemon grass
  • 1 handful of eucalyptus leaves
  • 1 lemon cut into quarters

Combine all of the ingredients into a saucepan, cover and boil for 20 minutes.

Pour this into a bowl and cover your head with a towel and slowly inhale the steam.

Remember that you are using boiling water so take the necessary precautions not to burn yourself. Because of the risks of burn this is not recommended for young children or the confused elderly.

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Emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

This condition destroys the lungs. Instead of there being a lot of small air spaces in the lungs, the walls dividing them are destroyed and larger sacs are formed. These are much less efficient in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide and as a result the amount of functioning lung is reduced. This troubles the chronic smoker who has a history of repeated attacks of bronchitis and or pneumonia.

There is no definitive treatment that reverses the disease, but it is very important to make the most of the lung tissue that one has remaining.

What you can do to help

The most essential thing to do is to stop smoking and to avoid places that have high levels of air pollution.

Physical exercise. This may seem a strange recommendation for somebody who has a chronic cough and is short of breath to the point of physical incapacity. However, careful, graded physical exercise such as slow walking, building up to an increasing distance, is of proven value in improving lung function in those with chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

It is important to ensure vitamin and mineral adequacy, particularly of the B group vitamins. Ensuring maximum efficiency of the body's metabolism in this way may reduce the body's demand for oxygen. Nutritional deficiencies without any obvious symptoms are very common, especially in the elderly. Multivitamin and mineral supplements may be of assistance.

People whose chronic bronchitis or emphysema involves excessive catarrh, may have an underlying food allergy. Attempt to identify any offending foods. In particular the exclusion of dairy products may be of benefit.

Take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.

Herbal remedies for emphysema

All of the herbs that have been covered in bronchitis (above) are also applicable with emphysema. Particular remedies such as elcampane and comfrey root that help to clear sputum should be considered. Also the herbs recommended for asthma (above) are also recommended to tone the lungs.

The following herbal mixture would be worth trying especially if there is a persistent cough.

  • 2 parts mouse ear
  • 1 part sundew
  • 1 part coltsfoot
  • 1 part thyme
  • 1 part white horehound

Combine the herbs and using 2 teaspoons of the herb mix place into a cup and pour on boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. When the tea has cooled strain it and drink it.

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Common cold and flu

The common cold is caused by a number of viruses. The symptoms and signs include:

  • sneezing and a runny nose,
  • a sore throat, and
  • cough.

The flu is also caused by a virus and its symptoms and signs include:

  • fever (high temperature),
  • aching muscles,
  • sore throat and
  • headache.

The fever subsides in a couple of days leaving the sufferer feeling weak and lacking in energy.

The common cold and flu are caused by a number of viruses and if you are run down and your immune system is not working at an optimum level then you are likely to be susceptible.

What you can do to help

Vitamins A (as beta-carotene), C and zinc can help to prevent colds and the flu and during the flu season it is recommended that you increase the dose to double to assist in preventing the infection.

If you have a cold or flu take 1g of vitamin C three times per day, and take a zinc lozenge every two hours up to six times per day.

Drink plenty of fresh water to flush the system and try hot water with lemon juice to cleanse the respiratory system.

This chest cold remedy would be worth giving a go.

  • 1 small cayenne pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed horseradish root
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 large onion
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • pinch of turmeric

Place the cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mustard, onion, and turmeric in a medium sized saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain the mixture and allow it to cool a little before drinking.

The following herbal remedy will also be of assistance.

All of the ingredients in the following tea are rich in cineole which is a natural expectorant. Among the best choices for herbs in this tea are cardamon, eucalyptus, spearmint, rosemary, ginger, lavender and nutmeg. You can also try bee balm, peppermint, cinnamon, turmeric, basil and lemon. Try mixing and matching the herbs to get a flavour that you like. The following is a suggested starting place.

  • 1 handful rosemary leaves
  • a few peppermint leaves
  • a few spearmint leaves
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 cup of water
  • stevia to sweeten

Combine the herbs and using 2 teaspoons of the herb mix place into a cup and pour on boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. When the tea has cooled strain it and drink. You can add the sweetener if you wish.

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References

Davies, S. and A. Stewart., 1997, Nutritional Medicine. Pan.

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Holden, S., Hudson, K., Tilman, J. & D. Wolf, 2003, The Ultimate Guide to Health from Nature. Asrolog Publication.

Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books

Mills, S. Y. 1989, The A-Z of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Thorson.

Shaw, N. 2002, Herbalism. Element

Tyler, Y. E. 1993, The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. Haworth.

Woodward, P. 2003, Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies. Hyland House.

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