Restore Free Breathing with the Power of Nature

Restore Free Breathing with the Power of Nature
By Janet McKenzie, BSN, MBA, ND

We’ve all been laid low by the occasional cold or respiratory infection. Some of us are continually challenged to breathe easily because of allergies, asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

Fortunately, nature offers many alternatives to steroids and pharmaceutical bronchodilators when we need support for our respiratory systems. Let’s have a look at a few.

Herbs for Respiratory Health
Botanicals are like the “green” version of pharmaceuticals and many drugs are initially developed from plant extracts. When used in their natural form, herbs tend to have fewer side effects than drugs because of the balancing effects of their numerous constituents. Caution is still warranted when using botanicals, however, since some have the potential to be toxic at certain dose levels.

Peppermint, a herb commonly used in many products for its wonderful flavour, has antimicrobial properties and relieves muscle spasms such as those that can occur in airways during coughing. Menthol is a highly active constituent of peppermint, known for its ability to suppress cough and produce a cooling sensation in inflamed tissues .

Eucalyptus is also a herb traditionally used to ease respiration. It is known to have antimicrobial properties as well as analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects .

Mullein, botanically known as Verbascum thapsus, is a herb with antimicrobial properties . It seems to be particularly effective against viruses .

Elecampane has historically been used for the treatment of respiratory illnesses because of its antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitic, expectorant, bactericidal, and antiseptic activities , .

Rosemary is not only a delicious culinary herb; it is also used medicinally in the treatment of respiratory conditions characterized by coughing and seems to have antibacterial, antifungal activities .

Camphor is another traditional cough remedy. It eases air flow and reduces fits of coughing .

Other Tips for Healthy Breathing
Have you ever watched a young child breathe? Did you notice that the act of breathing involved the abdomen as well as the chest? This is called diaphragmatic breathing. Because it relies more on the action of the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest and abdominal cavities, it causes the lungs to fill with air more completely. Full lungs means better air exchange; better air exchange means more oxygen in your tissues and better oxygenation results in faster tissue healing, improved mental alertness and higher energy levels, among many other benefits.

Stress and other health conditions can cause us to take shallow breaths most of the time so it’s beneficial for everyone to focus on their breathing a few times a day. Here’s what to do:
 Sit in a comfortable position.
 Close your eyes and focus on your breath as you inhale.
 Take in a deep breath to a slow count of 4. Breathe from your tummy rather than your chest.
 Hold the breath for a slow count of 4.
 Release the breath for a slow count of 8.

If your breathing is compromised because of an infection or a chronic condition, make the transition to deeper breathing slowly to avoid side effects like light-headedness or coughing spasms.

Steam inhalation is also very helpful when your breathing is impaired because of an infection. Pour some boiling water into a shallow bowl and cover your head and the bowl with a towel. Inhale the steam in slow, controlled deep breaths. If you’re recovering from a respiratory infection, do this several times a day, especially prior to periods of sleep, to help clear your passages and promote more restful sleep.

Breath is life – make each breath the best it can be. 

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Janet McKenzie is a graduate of the University of British Columbia School of Nursing, Queen’s School of Business and the Canadian School of Naturopathic Medicine. She has practices in Hamilton and Toronto, and teaches at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.