Respiratory irritants and lung health

Millions of people around the world are frequently exposed to respiratory irritants which may lead to inflammation of the lungs and increased risk of sinusitis and mild allergies including allergic rhinitis and hayfever. This can affect lung health and lead to discomfort and excessive mucus congestion.

Free radicals and oxidative damage

Free radicals are formed by a chemical reaction, known as oxidation, which can lead to cell damage. Free radicals are unstable, electrically charged molecules that gain stability by stealing electrons from other molecules, including proteins, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and cell membranes through the oxidation process. When oxidation occurs, important components of cells become damaged and lose their ability to function normally and persistent oxidative damage can eventually lead to cell death.

The respiratory system

The lungs form an integral part of the respiratory system where gases are exchanged i.e. oxygen and carbon dioxide. Other parts of the respiratory system, including the nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi and bronchioles, support the lungs by helping to purify, humidify and warm the incoming air before it reaches the lungs. Red blood cells provide the medium for gas transportation and the cardiovascular system circulates red blood cells around the body and then back to the lungs.

The lungs

The lungs are very important detoxifying organs that eliminate waste such as carbon dioxide and respiratory irritants from the body so they help protect the body from free radicals and oxidative damage. Lungs are constantly exposed to the external environment and in particular, airborne toxins and pollutants .

Increased mucus production is one of the ways the body tries to eliminate irritants such as dust, pollens or microbial infection. Inhaled irritants are trapped in the mucus and then transported toward the throat where they are either expectorated through coughing or swallowed. Constant irritation leads to inflammation and additional mucus production.

Cough reflex

The cough reflex helps protect and clear the respiratory system from irritants and secretions. Cough receptors are found throughout the respiratory system and when irritants or secretions stimulate these receptors, an involuntary cough reflex is triggered. Coughs can either be dry (no mucus secretions) or productive (copious mucus secretions).

Top 4 herbs to support respiratory health

1. Grape seed provides a rich source of powerful antioxidant compounds known as oligomeric proanthocyanidins or OPCs. OPCs help counteract the negative effects of free radicals, helping to protect the lungs from free radical damage . OPCs from Grape seed also supports collagen, which is important for stabilising capillary walls.

2. Thyme provides potent antioxidant activity to reduce free radicals formed in the body and is traditionally used in Western herbal medicine (WHM) to:

  • Relieve cough
  • Reduce excess mucus and chest phlegm
  • Relieve bronchial mucous congestion
  • Support lung health

3. Albizia is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as an anti-inflammatory to relieve inflammation and cough, and support lung health. Albizia is also traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve the symptoms of mild allergies, allergic rhinitis, hayfever and sinusitis. People exposed to ozone or nitrogen dioxide are more likely to react to allergens such as grass pollens and house dust mites than those who are not exposed .

4. White horehound is traditionally used in WHM as a respiratory tonic to support lung health and as an expectorant to clear respiratory tract mucus. White horehound is traditionally used in WHM to reduce excess mucus and chest phlegm, and relieve cough.

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