Winter is a time when our respiratory system becomes slightly more vulnerable with the cold, damp and mouldy houses. The upper respiratory system is the first point of invasion from bugs that are inhaled or ingested through airborne droplets. However, if these bugs take hold they can often travel down to our chest causing coughs, mucous, bacterial infection and breathing difficulties. Some groups have to be more vigilant against this such as the elderly, asthmatics and those with allergies. So what natural health ingredients can we look at to protect our airways and make breathing easy this winter?
Vitamin C is the primary antioxidant in the lungs, helping prevent inflammation and damage. Studies have shown that those with regular breathing issues have lower Vitamin C levels in the lungs, which would indicate benefits from ingesting higher doses (1). In connection to preventing winter bugs, Vitamin C is crucial to the immune system as it helps build an army of white blood cells to fight infection. Vitamin C is rapidly depleted with infection and being water soluble vitamin it is not stored in the body, so needs to be ingested regularly. Make sure you eat plenty of kiwi and citrus fruit to naturally increase your Vitamin C levels.
This mineral is part of our chemical barriers and is found in the mucous of the nasal and throat cavities and also in saliva. It acts as an antibacterial agent killing anything that looks like “non-self”. Therefore, if we have good levels of zinc it will be killing invaders before they can move on further. Again Zinc is one of the nutrients quickly depleted in viral attacks and research has shown it can reduce the duration of upper respiratory tract infections (2). Research has also shown that zinc inhibits the rhinovirus replication, hence stopping infection before it takes hold (2). Good sources of Zinc include animal proteins, eggs, fish and seafood, nuts, legumes, whole grains, miso, tofu, brewer’s yeast, mushrooms, green beans, seeds, green leafy vegetables, avocado and sea vegetables like kelp and spirulina.
This herb originates from South Africa and is a member of the geranium family. It was traditionally used for respiratory ailments, but was discovered by the Europeans and was used to treat tuberculosis. It was then forgotten, but has now come to light as a powerful herb to support the upper respiratory tract. It helps the body fight viral and bacterial attacks and helps shorten the duration of the illnesses these cause (3). The known actions contributing to Pelargonium’s efficacy in this area are as an Antiviral (4,5), Antibacterial (4,5), Immune enhancing/modulating (4,5), Anti-adhesive – reducing bacterial adhesion to the mucosal lining (4).
Ivy Leaf is a traditional herb that has been used for hundreds of years by people needing its herbal power for respiratory tract support. Its actions are to sooth the throat and help clear the airways. It also helps thin mucous, which helps with expectoration, but also moistens dry irritated membranes of the airways that can make us cough (6). Like many herbs it also has antimicrobial actions that help fight off invading bugs. When working with the respiratory tract Ivy helps relax the bronchioles, opening the airways, so we can breathe more easily (7).
By Jane Cronin
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(1) Raida I. Harik-Khan,Denis C. Muller & Robert A. Wise. Serum Vitamin Levels and the Risk of Asthma in Children. American Journal of Epidemiology, 15 Feb 2004, Volume 159, Issue 1, pp351-354.
(2) Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online). 2013;6:CD001364.
(3) Ulbricht C, Abrams TR, Conquer J, et al. An evidence-based systematic review of umckaloabo (Pelargonium sidoides) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of dietary supplements. Sep 2010;7(3):283-302.
(4) Brendler T, van Wyk BE. A historical, scientific and commercial perspective on the medicinal use of Pelargonium sidoides (Geraniaceae). Journal of ethnopharmacology. Oct 28 2008;119(3):420-433.
(5) L,Cohen,M. Herbs & Natural Supplemenst:Anevidence based guide 3rd additionion, Australia,l Elsevier; 2010
(6) Engelhard Arzneimittel GmbH & Co. KG. Frequently asked questions (FAQs) – FOR SPECIALISTS – on the medicinal product Prospan. Niederdorfelden 2008.
(7) Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. English Ivy. http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed Nov 07th, 2012.