Virtually all of us take the ability to get a good breath of air for granted. For people suffering from chronic sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive lung disease, and other diseases of the respiratory tract, however, an effortless breath of air is greatly appreciated.
These conditions are often more problematic during the winter months. Sure, we are exposed to more viruses at this time, but one of the key reasons sinus and airway congestion occurs more frequently during winter months is dry, warm indoor air. This dries out the airway membranes. As a result, mucus isn’t cleared as effectively, which can increase your risk of sinus, bronchial, or lung congestion and/or infection.
Fortunately, there are safe and effective natural products that can improve the moisture content of the airway passages as well as the mucus secretions, and as a result, lead to easier breathing. Three of the most useful are N-acetylcysteine, ivy extract, and bromelain. These ingredients can be used individually or combined for even greater effectiveness.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a derivative of the naturally occurring amino acid, cysteine. NAC has an extensive history of use in the treatment of acute and chronic lung conditions, including emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. It directly splits the sulfur linkages of mucoproteins, thereby reducing viscosity of bronchial and lung secretions. As a result, it improves bronchial and lung function, reduces cough, and improves oxygen saturation in the blood.
NAC is helpful in all lung and respiratory tract disorders, especially chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In detailed analysis of 39 trials, it has been concluded that oral NAC reduces the risk of exacerbations (severe worsening) and improves symptoms in patients with chronic bronchitis compared with a placebo.
In addition to its effects as a mucolytic, NAC can increase the manufacture of glutathione—a major antioxidant for the entire respiratory tract and lungs. The typical dosage for NAC is 200 mg three times daily.
Ivy leaf has a long history of use in asthma and COPD. Recent clinical research has validated its ability to reduce bronchial spasm and improve respiratory secretions. Several double-blind studies have shown that ivy extract improves lung function and reduces asthma attacks. For example, in one double-blind study, 25 children ages 10 to 15 years with asthma demonstrated improvements in lung capacity after 10 days of treatment with ivy extract. Improvements were shown to be clinically relevant and statistically significant three hours after administration of ivy extract by day 10 of treatment. The typical dosage is 100 mg once or twice daily.
Bromelain refers to a group of sulfur-containing enzymes that digest protein (proteolytic enzymes or proteases) obtained from the pineapple plant (Ananas comusus). Bromelain has been shown to exert several effects of benefit in clearing the airways, suppressing coughs, and reducing the viscosity of respiratory tract secretions. Bromelain is also helpful in acute sinusitis. The typical dosage for bromelain for respiratory indications is 250 to 750 mg three times per day between meals.
Additional Therapies That Can Help
For sinus congestion, try nasal irrigation with salt water using a Neti pot—a ceramic pot that looks like a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin’s magic lamp. Used properly, the salt water will flow through the nasal cavity and relieve symptoms of congestion. Daily use is recommended during acute episodes, every other day for chronic conditions.
Nasal sprays featuring natural ingredients, such as xylitol or homeopathic remedies, can also be helpful at keeping membranes moist.
For bronchial and lung congestion, as well as for deeper sinus infections, try postural drainage. It is a simple, old-time therapy that works wonders. Apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to the chest for up to 20 minutes. Then perform postural drainage by lying face down with the top half of the body off of a bed, using the forearms as support. Maintain the position for five to 15 minutes, while you cough and expectorate into a basin or newspaper on the floor. Do this twice daily whenever there is significant airway congestion.
Michael T. Murray, ND, is the author of more than 30 books on natural health, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Third Edition. He is regarded as one of the world's top authorities on natural medicine, and is a sought-after lecturer and educator. Visit him online at doctormurray.com.
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