Diseases of the respiratory system occur primarily in the bronchioles and the alveoli. Much rarer, unless you count choking and drowning, are conditions that affect the larger passageways of the lungs such as the trachea and the bronchi. That means that the focus of today's newsletter is on diseases that affect the bronchioles and alveoli. We're talking about COPD, emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, allergies, flu, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and pulmonary embolisms. Since we've already laid the groundwork in our previous two newsletters covering the anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system, let's jump right in and start looking at the major diseases of the respiratory system -- and what natural alternatives exist to help deal with them.
Note: you're going to notice that some specific recommendations appear over and over and are recommended for dealing with multiple conditions. It doesn't make them magic bullets or miracle cures. It just means that diseases of the lungs tend to affect the same areas of the lungs -- the alveoli and bronchioles -- albeit in slightly different ways. Therefore, there is some redundancy in dealing with those diseases. Also, to avoid overwhelming the newsletter with links, I will provide support links on different solutions the first time they appear only.
COPD -- emphysema and chronic obstructive bronchitis
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a progressive disease generally caused by long term irritation to the lungs that makes it hard to breathe. It is characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible. The airflow limitation is usually both progressive and associated with an abnormal inflammatory response of the lungs to noxious particles or gases. Cigarette smoking is the most common cause. Symptoms can include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing, and the accumulation of large amounts of mucus in the lungs.
The term COPD actually encompasses two main conditions: emphysema and chronic obstructive bronchitis. Emphysema is an abnormal permanent enlargement of the alveoli, accompanied by destruction of their walls, and without obvious fibrosis (scarring). Emphysema is defined by this damage occurring in the alveoli, causing them to lose their shape and elasticity -- and in some cases actually destroying their walls, leading to fewer and larger air sacs instead of many tiny ones.
Chronic obstructive bronchitis, on the other hand, is defined by irritation and inflammation to the mucus membrane lining of the airways (primarily the smaller bronchioles) leading to the alevioi. This causes the lining to thicken. It also generates a great deal of thick mucus, which fills the airways, clogging them, and making it hard to breathe. As the irritated membrane swells and grows thicker, it narrows or shuts off the tiny airways in the lungs, resulting in coughing spells accompanied by thick phlegm and breathlessness. Another useful definition of chronic bronchitis is a chronic cough or mucus production for at least 3 months in at least 2 successive years when other causes of chronic cough have been excluded.
COPD is a major cause of disability. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 12 million people currently diagnosed with the disease and an estimated 12 million more who likely have the disease and don't even know it.
Most people who have COPD actually have both emphysema and chronic obstructive bronchitis. Thus, the general term COPD is more accurate and inclusive. Currently, there is no effective medical treatment for COPD and it is considered irreversible. But that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do about it. Just because the underlying condition is irreversible doesn't mean you can't significantly improve your outcome and quality of life by maximizing the breathing capacity you have left and minimizing any further progression. It is important to note in this regard that COPD develops slowly. Symptoms worsen over a long period of time. In other words, if you take decisive action, you can significantly change your long term prognosis. If your COPD is caused by smoking or continual exposure to other irritants such as air pollution, the disease will progress at an accelerating rate over time, resulting in early disability and shortened survival. On the other hand, if you eliminate the exposure to the lung irritant, the rate of decline in lung function reverts to the same rate as seen in non-smokers or people who live in areas that do not require them to breathe air redolent with the fumes of burning biomass fuels. In most cases, people with COPD who follow standard medical recommendations will need medication for the rest of their lives, with increased doses and additional drugs during periods of exacerbation.
More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD in the US. An additional 12 million likely have the disease and, as I mentioned earlier, don't even know it. Worldwide, COPD is also the fourth leading cause of death -- sharing the spot with HIV/AIDS. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2000, 2.74 million people died as the result of COPD worldwide. As a side note, in China, where it's estimated that as many as 75% of all adults now smoke and air pollution is endemic, the incidence and mortality of COPD are expected to skyrocket over the next 1-2 decades. As I mentioned earlier, COPD is currently the 4th leading cause of death in large urban areas -- but surprisingly it is the leading cause of death in rural areas.
What you can do about COPD (emphysema and chronic obstructive bronchitis)
This is largely a repeat of the recommendations we gave at the end of our last newsletter on the Physiology of the Respiratory System.
- Quit smoking. 1.2 billion people smoke worldwide -- some 43 million in the United States alone. There isn't much you can say good about smoking (other than that Gandalf looked cool blowing a smoke galleon in The Fellowship of the Ring. As we've already seen, smoking destroys all of the cilia in your trachea bronchial tree. It is the primary cause of lung cancer and emphysema. And it's harmful to everyone around you -- even weeks after you finish your last cigarette.
- You might want to consider investing in a high quality air filtration system (and no, the Ionic Breeze does not count). The IQAire Health Plus is highly regarded -- and is priced accordingly.
- Supplement with a good proteolytic enzyme formula to help thin mucous, reduce inflammation in the lungs, and reduce the chances of embolisms in your lungs.
- A tea of mullein, uva ursi, and coltsfoot can be very healing/soothing for the lungs of people suffering from COPD. Mix two parts mullein, to one part each of uva ursi and coltsfoot. Put one teaspoon of the mixture in a tea ball. Add a cup of boiling water and let steep for ten minutes. Drink two to four cups a day for 30-90 days, or as long as needed.
- A syrup made from elecampane root can be very tonic for the respiratory system. It has a warming effect on the lungs and it works as an effective, but mild expectorant, gently stimulating the coughing up and clearing of mucus from the chest.
- Consider incorporating nasal irrigation into your daily routine to optimize the flow of air through your nasal passages.
- As we discussed last issue, practice breathing exercises to optimize the efficiency of the lung tissue you have left.
Non-chronic bronchitis has the same symptoms as chronic bronchitis. The differences are primarily ones of timing and cause. Whereas chronic bronchitis lasts for three months or longer, non-chronic bronchitis is short term -- although in its acute form can last up to six weeks. In most cases the infection is viral in origin, but sometimes can be caused by bacteria. If the condition is not acute and you are otherwise in good health, the mucous membrane will return to normal after you've recovered from the initial lung infection, which usually lasts for several days. Acute bronchitis is responsible for the hacking cough and phlegm production that sometimes accompany an upper respiratory infection.
In fact, I have extensive experience with bronchitis. When the Baseline of Health® Foundation, Baseline Nutritionals®, and Nutribody Protein started sponsoring the KBS Pro Cycling Team, I met with the entire team to talk about how I thought I could help improve athletic performance. But the riders made it clear that they weren't that concerned about whether or not I could improve performance. Their primary concern was whether or not I could keep them from getting sick. As it turns out, high performance athletes train at such an edge, they end up pushing their immune systems beyond the limits, and they get sick frequently. They told me that on average, they came down with bronchitis before almost half the races they were scheduled to compete in, and the only way to get rid of the bronchitis was to take a round of antibiotics for a couple of weeks and then spend up to four to six weeks to fully recover from the antibiotics. As it turns out, this problem is common among all professional cyclists -- even the greats such as Lance Armstrong.
In fact, the team told me that many of the riders on the Tour de France actually live on antibiotics for most of race just to prevent the possibility of coming down with bronchitis. In any case, I told them I could help.
Those riders who followed my recommendations virtually eliminated their incidence of bronchitis (they now carry a bottle of my antipathogen formula with them wherever they go), and in those rare cases where they came down with it, were able to eliminate it in a matter of a couple of days without antibiotics. Needless to say, this captured the attention of the rest of team and by the second year, every single rider on the team made use of the program (and, as it turns out, improved performance at the same time).
What you can do about bronchitis
For bronchitis, we're usually talking about a viral or bacterial infection as the source of irritation. The key here, then, is to focus on the immune system.
- Use a good natural pathogen destroyerat the first sign of any problem.
- A good blood support formula can be an effective alternative since it will contain anti-pathogens. In fact, this has become the preferred formula of choice for many of the cyclists when dealing with bronchitis.
- Use a good natural immune system enhancer on a continual preventive basis.
- To speed up recovery, you might want to try using an ultrasonic nebulizer with a good Echinacea based herbal tincture in the medicine cup.
- Proteolytic enzymes to thin the mucus.
- Elecampane syrup to help clear the lungs.
In some ways, asthma is similar to bronchitis. In fact, people with asthma also experience an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, a condition actually called asthmatic bronchitis. But there are differences. Yes, asthma is a chronic disease that affects your breathing. But when you have asthma, your bronchioles (the smallest airways -- just before the alveoli) tend to be constantly red and swollen and are easily irritated in response to triggers/allergens, such as pollen and cigarette smoke. Exposure to these allergens, then, causes the walls of the bronchioles to become even more swollen and for the muscles to tighten. This narrows the passages even more so that even less air reaches your alveolar sacs. And as if that weren't enough, when you have asthma, mucus is also produced in larger than normal amounts, which clogs your airways yet even more, making it even harder to breathe, and resulting in even more severe asthma symptoms.
So what causes asthma? The main culprit is, in fact, a faulty immune system. In people with asthma, the immune system tends to overreact to certain allergens. In people who do not have asthma, these allergens either produce no response, or a very minimal one. Fortunately, this points us in the direction of some very helpful alternative treatments.
What you can do about asthma
- Avoid food based sources of allergens. The primary offenders included: wheat, corn, dairy, eggs, and soy. The more of these foods you eat, the more your immune system is "keyed up" to respond aggressively to any further triggers. You also might want to consider using digestive enzymes with meals to help break down these protein allergens before they enter the bloodstream.
- Use proteolytic enzymes to reduce inflammation of the bronchioles and to thin mucus. Proteolytic enzymes also help reduce the level of circulating immune complexes, which will make you less susceptible to asthmatic attacks when exposed to allergens.
- Use nutraceutical immunomodulators to regulate your immune system -- boosting a weak system or calming down an overactive one. By using immunomodulators such as L-carnosine, Cetylmyristoleate (CMO), and the Transfer Factor found in bovine colostrum, you can retrain the immune system to not overreact.
- And, of course, a good air filtration system
I actually dedicated a newsletter some three years ago to a discussion of allergies. If allergies are a particular problem for you, you can check it out. And to learn more about how exactly antigens and antibodies produce allergic responses in your body, check out Blood of My Ancestors. So rather than repeat it all again in this newsletter, let me just focus on the highlights.
Your tissue and blood are being exposed to allergens every day:
- Food additives
As with all threats, your body tries to rid itself of these "invaders" -- using your immune system to accomplish this purpose. Unfortunately, for many of us, the intake of allergens overwhelms the ability of the immune system to get rid of them. The net result is that over time, these allergen levels build up in the blood (and in your soft tissue, as in the case of Circulating Immune Complexes). At some point they build up to the level that it takes only the slightest trigger -- some pollen in the air, dust from an old book, or your boyfriend's cat, Boozer -- to send your body over the edge and cause sneezing, watery eyes, and a runny nose. At which point you reach for the Zyrtec. Unfortunately, antihistamines don't get rid of your allergies, they merely suppress the temporary symptoms. And even worse, they're based on a delusion. The delusion here is that the cat actually caused the allergic response. Not true. Your allergies result from the cumulative effect of multiple allergens -- not just the final trigger, in this case the cat, that throws you over the edge.
As always, it is best to deal with the cause rather than just suppressing the symptoms. There are several factors that trigger allergies, but in the end, getting rid of allergies primarily depends on eliminating the key cause -- foreign proteins in the blood. If they are allowed to build up, it takes only a mild stimulus (pollen, for example) to throw your body across the line of symptoms and produce problems that can range from mild itching and runny nose to an asthmatic attack.
The key to stopping allergies is to clean allergens out of your soft tissue and blood so that your personal health line sits far away from the line of symptoms. That way, the occasional exposure to pollen, dander, etc. are not enough to move you over the line of symptoms. This is done in several ways:
What you can do about allergies
- Eat smart. That means minimizing exposure to the most common food allergens -- the primary ones being wheat, corn, dairy, eggs and soy.
- Breathe smart. Invest in an effective air filtration system to scrub the air in your house -- and make sure you clean it frequently.
- Use proteolytic enzymes to reduce the level of circulating immune complexes.
- Use digestive enzymes to break down allergenic proteins before they enter the bloodstream.
- Do a colon detox twice a year. Have you ever noticed how just having a good bowel movement can sometimes clean up a stuffy nose in a matter of minutes? Your bowel is like a porous membrane that reclaims water from your stools (which is why stools get harder and dryer the longer they sit in the bowel) and shuttles that water back into your body. It also means that allergens are readily drawn into the body along with the water. The longer waste sits in the bowel, the more toxins are absorbed into your body along with the water. Remove the waste, and you have instant relief.
- Do a liver detox twice a year so that your liver can more efficiently eliminate toxins from the bloodstream. Since your liver is your body's primary filter, cleansing your liver is imperative in order to not only rid it of existing allergen build up in its own tissue but to allow for it to optimally perform its filtering functions and remove allergens from your blood.
- Use immunomodulators to retrain your immune system to not overreact.
- Use a full spectrum antioxidant that contains high levels of quercetin. Quercetin stabilizes the membranes of immune cells (basophils and mast cells) so they no longer dump inflammatories into the bloodstream.
- Try incorporating daily nasal cleansing as part of your evening ablutions.
Flu, bird flu, and pneumonia
The flu is a highly contagious viral infection similar to the common cold but with more severe symptoms accounting for upwards of 36,000 deaths each year in the United States, and some 500,000 deaths worldwide -- particularly among the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems such as those with HIV. Pneumonia, like the flu, is also a highly contagious viral infection that causes many deaths each year. And in fact, pneumonia is often a secondary infection caused by an initial flu virus. Specifically, pneumonia is an infection of the air sacs of the lung that causes the sacs to become clogged, which can ultimately lead to respiratory and heart failure. As a combination, flu and pneumonia are responsible for some 45,000 deaths each year in the United States, making them the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Unfortunately, modern medicine has very little to offer in the way of help. The flu vaccine is only marginally effective. And whatever effectiveness antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu may have had is rapidly disappearing as an inevitable result of a fatal flaw built into the drugs themselves. And although new studies may offer hope for new antibody proteins that would be effective against all strains of flu, those studies remain unproven outside of the laboratory -- and are several years away from practical application, if ever. So, until then, you're on your own.
As for avian flu, it's a different animal. Yes, it is a strain of flu, but it kills differently -- and far more effectively. It literally causes your own immune system to kill you by triggering it to overreact and literally eat up your lungs in what is known as a cytokine storm. This makes for a crucial difference in how you must deal with bird flu as opposed to regular flu if you should ever come down with it (not likely in the near term).
What you can do about flu, bird flu, and pneumonia
- Use immune enhancers.
- Use pathogen destroyers. This is particularly important in the case of bird flu to lower the viral load and thus prevent a cytokine storm. Using immune enhancers without using pathogen destroyers in cases of bird flu is a prescription for disaster. It should be noted that in the 1918 influenza pandemic, the majority of people who died (unlike with normal flu) were those with healthy immune systems -- not the elderly. Using pathogen destroyers in the case of bird flu will minimize the chances of your immune system overreacting and killing you.
- To speed up recovery, you might want to try using an ultrasonic nebulizer with a good Echinacea based herbal tincture in the medicine cup.
- Use a humidifier. Susceptibility to flu has been linked to dry winter air.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic mutation that disrupts the cystic fibrosis transmembrane regulator (CFTR) protein, resulting in poorly hydrated, thickened mucous secretions in the lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, sinuses, and sex organs. Or to put that in English. Mucus is normally watery. It keeps the linings of the organs listed above moist and prevents them from drying out or getting infected. But in CF, an abnormal gene causes mucus to become thick and sticky.
This thick, sticky mucus builds up in your lungs and blocks the airways. This makes it easy for bacteria to grow and leads to repeated serious lung infections. Over time, these infections can cause serious damage to your lungs. This thickened, sticky mucus can also block tubes and ducts in your organs, compromising their ability to function.
Medical treatment will often involve antibiotics to deal with infection, mucus thinners, and bronchial dilators -- all of which have side effects.
What you can do about cystic fibrosis
Let's be clear here. As a progressive, inherited condition, there is no treatment (alternative or otherwise) that is going to make cystic fibrosis go away. It's all a question of managing symptoms. And here, there are alternatives that may indeed work as well (or better in some cases) than traditional medications, and with far fewer side effects. We're talking about:
- Proteolytic enzymes to thin the mucus, kill bacteria and viruses, and reduce inflammation in the bronchial passages.
- Immune enhancers
- Pathogen destroyers
- Digestive enzymes to improve nutrition absorption in the intestinal tract -- an important issue since in CF, digestive enzymes are often blocked from leaving the pancreas by the thickened mucus.
- A syrup made from elecampane root to help clear mucus from the lungs.
Pulmonary fibrosis literally refers to scarring (fibrosis) throughout the lungs. Pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by many conditions including chronic inflammatory processes, chronic conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, infections, environmental agents such as asbestos and silica, and as a side effect of radiation therapy used to treat tumors of the chest, and even certain medications.
Medical treatment options for pulmonary fibrosis are very limited. A lung transplantation is really the only therapeutic option available since there is no evidence that any medications can help reverse the scarring once it has developed.
What you can do about pulmonary fibrosis
Although the condition itself may be irreversible, it may be possible to maximize the effectiveness of the lung capacity you have left (depending on how much is scarred), thereby improving your quality of life, thereby delaying or eliminating your need for a lung transplant.
- Once again, proteolytic enzymes may be helpful. And in fact, they have demonstrated some facility to reverse internal scarring -- depending on the extent and "newness" of that scarring.
- The mullein, uva ursi, and coltsfoot tea can be very healing/soothing for the lungs of people suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.
- And elecampane root syrup may also be very tonic.
- And you might want to consider supplementing with alpha lipoic (or its purer form, R-lipoic acid) as studies have shown that alpha lipoic acid indeed can prevent and reverse scar formation.
Pulmonary embolism and DVT
Veins do not have a substantial amount of muscle tissue to contract and squeeze blood along. That means that without physical activity to cause the skeletal muscles to squeeze the veins:
- Blood has a tendency to pool and stop flowing in veins -- particularly in the legs where gravity works against you.
- Blood that isn't flowing tends to clot.
- Clots tend to propagate more clotting around the original clot.
- Cumulatively, this can form very large clots.
Large clots that stay in place and block the flow of blood cause phlebitis. If the clot breaks free and starts traveling through the circulatory system, it's called a thrombus. At whatever point it lodges in a blood vessel and blocks it, it's called an embolism. The first place a clot is likely to lodge is when the right ventricle of the heart pumps it out into the pulmonary circulatory system on the way to the lungs. If the clot is fairly small, it will lodge in the lung itself and block the flow of blood to a section of the lung, killing it. This is called a pulmonary embolism. Larger clots can actually lodge in the pulmonary artery feeding an entire lung…killing the lung just like that. Or the clot can lodge at the juncture where the pulmonary artery divides between the two lungs, which will kill both lungs simultaneously…in an instant. (For more information, check out Arteries and Veins.)
Note: DVT, or deep vein thrombosis, is the term now commonly associated with clots that form as the result of prolonged sitting on an airplane. They tend to break free the next time you start moving again with any vigor. This can be several days or weeks after the plane flight itself, which means many people never connect the two events.
What you can do about pulmonary embolisms and DVT
After a pulmonary embolism has killed part of your lung, there's nothing you can do to recover the dead area. Your best bet is to prevent the embolism in the first place. The medical solution is to use blood thinners such as Coumadin/Warfarin. (Aspirin has no effect in preventing embolisms.) But there may be a better alternative with far fewer side effects. In fact, any side effects are likely to be positive such as: reduced inflammation throughout the body, repair of arteries, and the removal of dental plaque. Not a bad deal all around. The alternative I'm talking about is, once again, a good proteolytic enzyme formula. In fact, I use proteolytic enzymes daily -- and especially before and after any long plane flights.
Taking care of your respiratory system
Other than the specific options mentioned above, let me conclude by repeating some of the general recommendations I made at the end of the first newsletter in this series, The Anatomy of the Respiratory System, that were not mentioned here.
Exercise your lungs
Invest in a resistance breathing exercise device that restricts (in a controlled manner) your inhalations and exhalations, which forces your lungs to work harder. This, in turn, strengthens the muscles that makes your lungs work and increases their capacity. There are a number of such devices widely available on the internet and in health magazines. They tend to run $20-40. Studies have shown that these devices can increase breathing endurance by close to 300%.
And once again, I recommend regular practice of several yoga breathing techniques.
- Alternate nostril breathing.
- Bhastrika, which you will want a teacher to guide you through.
- Watching your breath. You can lie on your back for this exercise. Just visualize yourself rising and expanding with each inhalation, and floating out on the breath with each exhalation. Enjoy the spaces between the breaths. Don't force it. Just watch. If after inhaling, you don't feel like exhaling immediately, don't. Just enjoy the continuing sensation of rising and expanding. And if after exhaling, you don't feel the need to inhale immediately, don't. Just continue enjoying the sensation of floating on your breath until it's time to inhale again. Don't force it. Just watch and breathe. This will relax the muscles involved in breathing, train you to breath more deeply and completely, and ultimately slow down your rate of breathing.
Raise your pH
This will take a tremendous burden off your body and your respiratory system in particular by reducing the need to breath to eliminate CO2 to rebalance pH. You can accomplish this task by taking alkalinizing supplements or drinking treated water to raise your pH. You have a number of options including, but not limited to:
- Alkalinizing drops -- for example
- Alkaline trace minerals -- for example
- Water ionizer -- for example
Where to buy
For those of you interested, my versions of the following formulas mentioned in this newsletter can be found at www.baselinenutritionals.com.
- Immune builder
- Pathogen destroyer
- Blood Support™
- Proteolytic enzymes
- Digestive enzymes
- Colon detox
- Liver detox
And with that, we conclude our series on the respiratory system.
For more information on the Respiratory System: