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Breathe Easy

Five remedies that promote lung health and protect against colds and flu. Reach for these at the first sign of illness.

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There’s not much you can do about the weather; but when cold, dry winter winds and forced air heating systems irritate your delicate respiratory tissues, natural herbal, homeopathic, and vitamin supplements can calm coughs, soothe irritated throats, and improve lung health. Breathe easier with these selections:

1 Vitamin D. A number of studies have found that vitamin D boosts the body’s natural defenses, and helps ward off viruses that cause colds, flu, and respiratory illness. But in the winter, when sunshine is at a minimum, levels of this crucial nutrient can drop dramatically. Fortunately, vitamin D supplements can help.
In addition to boosting immunity in general, vitamin D supplements may also reduce children’s risk of respiratory infections, according to new research. In this study, kids who took 300 IU of vitamin D per day cut their risk of respiratory infection in half. Other recent studies show a direct and dramatic impact of vitamin D on respiratory and lung health, including preventing viral and bacterial respiratory infection, asthma, and other conditions.

What to take: The National Institutes of Medicine recommends 600 IUs per day before age 70, and 800 IUs per day thereafter. Other groups recommend substantially higher doses, especially for people at risk of deficiency. Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels (done through a simple blood test).

2 Medicinal Mushrooms. In traditional Chinese medicine, mushrooms have been used for thousands of years to protect against viruses and support immunity. Some modern studies have recognized the ability of the reshi mushroom to support healthy immune function and even protect against lung cancer. Shiitake mushrooms have shown similar benefits in terms of immune function, as have maitake mushrooms. In one study, maitake mushrooms significantly improved immune function when combined with ashwagandha, a traditional ayurvedic herb. Other studies have pointed to the powerful immune-boosting effects of turkey tail mushroom (Coriolus versicolor), including a reduction of cancer risk.

What to take: Many formulas combine several mushroom varieties for a broader approach to immune health. There’s no set dosage for medicinal mushrooms; follow the instructions on the product label.

3 Andrographis. Also known as “Indian echinacea,” the andrographis herb is native to South Asia. Like mushrooms, it’s been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years to protect against infection. Research has shown that it can significantly improve symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, and may even prevent them from occurring. In one study, andrographis was twice as effective as a placebo at reducing cough, nasal discharge, headache, fever, sore throat, earache, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and other symptoms of respiratory tract infection. Andrographis may also lessen the severity and duration of the flu in general, and can prevent infection.

What to take: Some studies used a specific product called Kan Jang, a Scandinavian cold remedy that combines andrographis with Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). You’ll also find andrographis sold in combination with other herbs as respiratory health supplements, or sold alone as a single herb.

4 Platycodon. This root from a flowering plant that grows in China and Japan has long been used in traditional medicine to treat lung and throat disorders and diseases, to expel phlegm, and to circulate lung qi (“life energy”). In modern studies platycodon, alone and in combination with other herbs, shows promise in treating flu symptoms and lung cancer. Sichuan fritillary bulb is another traditional Chinese herb used to clear phlegm from the lungs, treat respiratory inflammation, and resolve coughing. Traditional Chinese medicine formulations for respiratory health disorders usually include a combination of platycodon, fritillariae bulb or Sichuan fritillary, and other herbs, including trichosanthes and licorice root. Trichosanthes, licorice and fritillariae bulb, like platycodon, have been shown in modern studies to treat a variety of respiratory conditions, including cough, inflammation, and even lung cancer.

What to take: Chinese herbals work best in well-designed formulations; look for combination products and take according to directions.

5 Bryonia. A homeopathic remedy made from the root of the white bryony plant, bryonia is generally used for dry, hacking coughs and to soothe irritation in the upper trachea. Other homeopathics used for respiratory conditions include causticum, for cough with a raw, painful feeling in lungs and a sense of heavy mucus under the sternum; antimonium, used for whooping cough and in the early stages of bronchitis; pulsatilla, used for gagging, choking coughs and a sense of heaviness in the chest; and ipecacuanha, used to treat coughs that include a rattling of mucus in the chest, without expectoration. Few studies exist for individual homeopathic remedies, but in one study of almost 1,500 participants, homeopathic treatments for acute respiratory symptoms worked as well as conventional treatments.

What to take: Many different homeopathic formulas are available, depending upon your specific set of symptoms. Like Chinese herbs, homeopathic remedies are best used in well-formulated combinations.

Chestal Honey Homeopathic Cough Syrup
This tasty syrup coats and soothes the throat with a blend of honey and homeopathic medicines, including bryonia.

The carefully selected herbs in this formula include platycodon and licorice. It can be used daily to promote lung health and combat environmental pollution.

Rainbow Light
Certified Organics Mushroom Therapy
This vegan complex enhances immunity with a combination of five beta-glucan-rich medicinal mushrooms, including shiitake.