Respiratory Health & the Power of the Lungs
Breath in. Breath out. We do it automatically, about 22,000 times per day. Until we can’t. For millions of adults and children, taking a deep breath is a struggle; for those who can breathe easily, the power of the breath is often taken for granted. Yet our lungs have a vulnerability not shared by other organs: Along with oxygen, breathing brings in airborne irritants, organisms, and toxins. As these substances increase in the environment, more people are dealing with poor lung and respiratory health.
An unhealthy respiratory system deprives our entire body of oxygen, a nutrient essential to the functioning of all our organs and tissues. A poorly functioning respiratory system compromises the strength of the immune system and puts us at risk for serious illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and coronary obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
A Closer Look at the Lungs
The respiratory system includes airways, the lungs and linked blood vessels, and muscles that enable breathing, such as the diaphragm. The lungs sit inside the rib cage and are the central organ in the respiratory system. They are made of spongy, elastic tissue that stretches and constricts as we breathe. The trachea and bronchi bring air into the lungs; they are made of smooth muscle and cartilage, which allows the airways to constrict and expand. The alveoli, tiny sacs deep within the lungs, facilitate the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide from the blood. If not cared for, our lungs are prone to infection and illness.
Protect Your Lungs
Exercise. The better your cardiorespiratory fitness, the easier it is for your lungs to keep your heart and muscles supplied with oxygen. It doesn’t matter if you dance under the moon, swim at sunrise, or walk through the woods…just get moving to a level that increases your breathing and heart rate.
Puff Off. Smoking is one of the most detrimental things you can do to your lungs. There’s no such thing as moderation. Smoking, second-hand smoke in the air, and smoke absorbed by clothes, furniture and car upholstery can damage lung tissue and increase your risk for lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.
Breathe Clean(er). From second-hand smoke to industrial pollution, the levels of toxins in the air are astonishing. This is especially true if you live in, work, or travel to places without environmental protections for air quality. For information on local air quality and an explanation of the Air Quality Index (AQI), visit AIRNow (http://www.airnow.gov/). Reduce toxins and improve your air quality by: using air purifiers or whole house air filtration systems; following a schedule for replacing air filters in your heating/cooling system; and keeping plenty of plants in your living areas to remove certain chemicals from indoor air.
Breathe Right. Most of us don’t breathe well. Too often, respiration is shallow instead of deep, limiting the amount of oxygen taken into the body. Proper breathing begins with good posture – stand tall through the spine and chest. Additionally, practice abdominal breathing, in which you fill the belly – not just the chest – as you inhale.
Experience the Health Benefits of Acorn (Winter) Squash
Known for its iconic autumn shape and vibrant green speckled-with-yellow color, acorn squash provides an array of nutrients that support optimal health. These include calcium, potassium and magnesium, each one vital to many physiological processes including the formation and regeneration of bone matter and prevention of osteoporosis. They also play a role in energy metabolism, water balance in the body, and muscle contraction. Other minerals found in smaller amounts in acorn squash include manganese, copper, iron, and zinc.
It’s easy to include acorn squash in your meal plans. Available in the winter months (hence the name, Winter Squash), it can be baked, sautéed, steamed, stuffed, pureed for soups, or incorporated into a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. Acorn squash is a good source of Vitamin C, which supports immunity and works as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from oxidative stress that can lead to inflammation and health problems such as cancer or heart disease. To maximize the amount of vitamin C you receive from acorn squash, use the vegetable within four days after purchase and cut it right before cooking. Steam or bake the squash instead of boiling it to keep vitamin C from being degraded in hot water.
Acorn squash is also high in both fiber and complex carbohydrates. While there aren’t any simple sugars in acorn squash, if you follow a low-carb diet you’ll want to enjoy smaller portions of this vegetable.
The Master Antioxidant: Glutathione
Produced naturally in the body, glutathione is made of three amino acids − cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. It functions as an antioxidant, helping to rid our bodies of free radicals – molecules that can damage our body and contribute to chronic illness.
In addition to clearing free radicals, it plays important roles in boosting the work of other antioxidants, nutrient metabolism, the immune response, and the detoxification process that neutralizes drugs, chemicals, metabolic wastes, and other toxins and carcinogens. Because it can regenerate itself, and because it is used by every cell and tissue in the body, glutathione is considered “the Master Antioxidant.”
A deficiency of glutathione contributes to oxidative stress which plays a key role in aging and the development of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease to name just a few. While not considered part of “mainstream” medicine, there are a number of lab tests that can be used to check glutathione levels. These are known as Oxidative Stress Analysis tests. Your best resource for investigating these types of tests is your holistic healthcare practitioner.
For general health, the best approach is to enhance the body’s levels of nutrients needed for boosting glutathione levels through a whole foods diet. This includes broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, garlic, and onions as well as walnuts and avocado. Eating foods rich in B vitamins and selenium also supports the body’s natural glutathione levels. This includes beets, garbanzo beans, spinach, and lentils for the B vitamins; and for selenium include foods such as wild-caught yellow-fin tuna, halibut, grass fed/ organic boneless turkey and beef.
In order to gain the best benefit from an oral glutathione supplement there are two important things to consider: the form and cofactors (helpers). The best forms are L-glutathione, acetyl glutathione or liposomal glutathione. In addition, glutathione works better when it is paired with other substances that help the body absorb and use it, i.e. cofactors. These include N acetyl-L-cysteine, B vitamins, selenium, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin C. For serious respiratory illnesses, glutathione might provide its best medicinal effects when it is inhaled. Deciding on the appropriate dose and whether to use oral or inhaled glutathione to gain the most benefit can be challenging so consider working with a healthcare practitioner to determine what is best for you.
Ease Respiratory Symptoms with Eucalyptus Oil (Eucalyptus globulus)
Eucalyptus has held a place in herbal medicine for centuries. Native to Australia, there are more than 680 species of eucalyptus, ranging from scrappy shrubs to towering trees. The bark and leaves provide a rich source of the pungent, heady fragrance that has become popular in modern aromatherapy. Specifically, Eucalyptus essential oil (EO) has attracted research attention for easing symptoms of respiratory illness.
The medicinal properties of Eucalyptus EO include anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, antibacterial, antiseptic and expectorant. The primary active component, cineole, loosens phlegm so the body can expel it more easily, easing symptoms such as cough, runny nose, sore throat, and congestion. Eucalyptus EO is found in many over-the-counter remedies including throat lozenges, inhalants, decongestant syrups, and chest rubs. However, it’s unsafe to ingest eucalyptus oil or to apply undiluted oil directly on the skin.
As an aromatherapy remedy for respiratory symptoms, you can buy eucalyptus prepared as a tea, chest rub, or vaporizer. You can also purchase organic Eucalyptus EO for use in bath water, to add to a vaporizer, or a room diffuser. The oil distributes in the steam, which helps open the nasal and respiratory pathways as you inhale. In a bath, add 1 tbsp of milk (almond, cashew or rice) with the oil to enhance dispersal of the oil.
Before preparing a home remedy, consult with a holistic physician about the proper dilution of the oil as it can interact with other medication, create an allergic reaction for some people, and requires different preparation for children than for adults.