The cold dry air of the winter months mingles with seasonal infections and molds to create a perfect storm that inflicts many with annoying lung conditions. From chronic dry coughs to mucus-filled chest congestion the winter months have a way of attacking the lungs and keeping people gravitating towards cough suppressants warm tea and plenty of blankets. It is not pure coincidence that the winter months can be unfriendly to our lungs. Cold air is dry air and the lungs are the first organs to feel like a parched land during this dry season. Not only is the outside air hostile but many homes have gas-forced furnaces and wood-burning stoves circulating dry air throughout our living spaces. This indoor air quality can often be compromised as furnaces spread mold and dust while wood-burning stoves spew dirt and soot. To make matters worse bacterial and viral invaders seem to thrive in colder air explaining the seasonal increase in colds and flus. No wonder the lungs feel imprisoned during the winter months longing for their own oasis.
Nutrition Support Ginger
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome or root has a long history of use as a culinary herb and as a prophylactic agent for many health conditions including those of the respiratory tract. In vitro studies suggest that ginger possesses antimicrobial antifungal antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties all of which are important for maintaining lung health during the winter. Dry air can trigger inflammation of the respiratory tract leading to chronic coughing and sore chests. Dust dirt mold and infections often trigger oxidative stress which further irritates the mucus lining making breathing difficult and taxing the immune system. According to one study ginger significantly reduced infiltration of inflammatory cells eosinophils and neutrophils in airways and suppressed the Th2-mediated immune response confirming ginger's ability to support respiratory conditions. In another study ginger was shown to effectively relax airway smooth muscle relieving the bronchoconstriction that often accompanies winter respiratory conditions. Ginger also has antitussive properties that make it useful for upper respiratory infections bronchitis and cough.
Astragalus is another herb that is well known for supporting the immune system during times when it is stressed. Interestingly this herb has a unique affinity for respiratory membranes and has been discovered to decrease airway inflammation evidenced by reduced IgE in bronchial fluid and modulation of the Th1 and Th2 cytokines. In a study that observed the effects of astragalus on bronchopulmonary dysplasia this herb was found to modulate inflammatory factors NF-kB and TNF-I± as well as increase antioxidant activity similar to ginger. Therefore astragalus can work in conjunction with ginger to support respiratory tissues from the damaging effects of dry air and air contaminants.
Ginger and astragalus are unique in their ability to target the respiratory tract and fight against winter infections or allergic reactions; however a strong immune system and proper hydration will go a long way in complimenting the actions of these herbs. Immune-building nutrients such as vitamins C D and E as well as zinc are beneficial adjuncts. Drinking plenty of water and running a home humidifier can help keep the lungs moist and the cilia working optimally. Warm beverages such as tea can serve a dual purpose in hydrating the body and providing a warm vapor which when breathed in will help moisten the nasal passage. It is also beneficial to keep the air contaminants at a minimum by dusting more frequently and cleaning out furnace vents. Air purifiers may be helpful in older homes that are predisposed to mold contamination. During the remainder of this cold season you don't have to suffer through annoying coughs and tight lungs. Keeping a few helpful herbs on hand some supportive nutrients a clean home and hydrating your body will be the ticket to breathing easier as you wait for the arrival of warmer days.