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Nutrients and Herbs for Emphysema

Asthma, Respiratory | March 31, 2021 | Author: Naturopath

Asthma, cardiovascular

Nutrients and Herbs for Emphysema

Emphysema is a condition of the lungs where the air sacs (alveoli) become damaged over time and with main symptoms of shortness of breath and cough. Normally the lungs are covered with small alveoli which exchange carbon dioxide to exhale with oxygen inhaled. Oxygen is then circulated throughout the body through blood.

With emphysema the removal of carbon dioxide through exhalation does not work properly resulting in old air (carbon dioxide) staying in the lung and reducing the space needed for oxygen-rich air.

Role of the Respiratory system

Exchanging oxygen and eliminating carbon dioxide is the main function of the respiratory system. Inhaled (breathing in) oxygen enters the lungs to the alveoli where a single cell layer lining the alveoli and nearby capillaries work together to transfer oxygen into the blood. This oxygen-rich blood travels from the lungs to the left side of the heart which pumps it to the rest of the body. The oxygen-depleted carbon dioxide-rich blood is transported to the right side of the heart where it is pumped into the lungs then released through exhalation (breathing out). This gas exchange is performed by millions of alveoli in the lungs, and the capillaries which surround them. 

The symptom of shortness of breath may develop over time and may not be noticed until it becomes a problem during normal day to day activities. Shortness of breath may even persist whilst at rest. Other signs can be a blue tinge seen on lips or fingertips during physical activity and mental fatigue.

Inflammation of the bronchial tubes (the tubes which carry air into the lungs) often accompanies emphysema with a symptom of a persistent cough. This is known as (chronic bronchitis). Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are conditions known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Causes of Emphysema

Smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. The more years a person has smoked tobacco and the amount smoked, increase risk of damaging lung resulting in COPD and emphysema. People who smoke cigars and pipes are also at risk of developing emphysema, as are those exposed to second-hand smoke. This is known as passive or environmental tobacco smoke or the smoke inadvertently inhaled when other people smoke.

Age. Symptoms of emphyesma can appear as early as 40years for those who smoke. 

Cigarettes, pipes, cigars and second-hand tobacco smoke increase the risk of developing emphysema!

Occupational Hazards (vapours, irritants and fumes). A person’s occupational exposure can increase the risk (if they smoke) or make them susceptible to developing emphysema from their occupational environmental. Fumes from chemicals, dust from mining products, dust from farming (grain, cotton), dust from wood etc.

Pollution. Outdoor air pollution such as car exhaust fumes. Indoor fumes from such things as heating.

Genetics. An inherited condition, called  Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1), can result in a severe form of emphysema. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin is a protein produced by the liver which is released into the bloodstream and travels to the lungs to protect them from disease.

Treatment goals

With emphysema any damage to the lungs is generally permanent and disease is progressive. Treatment goals are aimed at slowing disease progression. Airway narrowing is due to a combination of inflammatory hypersecretion of mucous, mucous plugging, oedema, bronchospasm, peri-bronchial fibrosis and changes to the structure of small airways. The septa dividing the alveoli is destroyed facilitating airway closure during expiration. Natural therapies aim to reduce inflammation, support immunity and general health, reduce mucous production and help breathing.

Cease smoking. Hard as it may be stopping smoking is still important to give the lungs the best chance of doing their job. Smoking may impair the clearance of mucous from the lower lungs, increasing risk of infection. Chronic infections can increase inflammation which may increase disease progression.

Inflammation reduction. Curcuma longa (turmeric), Boswellia serrata (Boswellia), Zingiber officinale (ginger), Omega-3 fatty acids and Quercetin.

Mucous membrane support. The mucous membrane is a layer of cells that surrounds body organs and orifices including respiratory passages, which secrete mucous. This mucous protects the body from invasion by pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. Vitamin A, vitamin C, Zinc and selenium restore the mucous membranes.

Bronchodilation. Magnesium, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice). Consult an herbalist or naturopath for further herbs which act as bronchodilators. Bronchodilators help to open (dilate) the breathing passages by relaxing bronchial smooth muscles, making breathing easier.

Mucolytics and anticatarrhal. Armoracia rusticana (horseradish), Allium sativum (garlic), Thymus vulgaris (thyme), bromelain, N-acetylcysteine, eucalyptus and oregano.

Immune system support. People with COPD are prone respiratory infection which can cause lung destruction to progress more quicky. Protect the body from infection with Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc for nutritional support. Echinacea purpurea or/and Echinacea augustifolia can be used for long term immune support, Andrographis paniculata is beneficial for when immune system is compromised.

Herbal Tonics. Support general well-being with Astragalus membranaceus, Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng), Withania somnifera (winter cherry/ashwagandha).

Nutritional support. A diet rich in antioxidant fruit and vegetables. Protein - the building block of the body. Green Tea and resveratrol are powerful antioxidants. Check Vitamin D levels and replete if neccesary.

Preventing Emphysema

  • Don’t smoke and avoid second hand smoke.
  • Reduce/remove exposure to irritants. Use protection (such as a mask) in circumstances of occupational and environmental risk.

Further health risks associated with emphysema

Damaging effects to the heart. Increased pressure on the arteries which connect the heart and lungs can cause the heart to weaken and enlarge. This is known as cor pulmonale.

Pneumothorax, also known as collapsed lung, can be a life-threatening condition for people with emphysema due to the already reduced lung compacity.

Large holes in the lungs, known as bullae, can develop. These are empty spaces which reduce the expansion area for the lung and can also increase the risk of pneumothorax.

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References

https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/emphysema-a-to-z

https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/home/SearchResults?query=oxygen+exchange

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/emphysema/symptoms-causes/syc-20355555#:~:text=Emphysema

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/withania-somnifera

https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/professional/pulmonary-disorders/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-and-related-disorders/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd?query=emphysema

National Emphysema Treatment Trial State of the https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2645324/

Breakthrough in understanding hereditary emphysema https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110124081555.

Fisher, Carole; 2009, MATERIA MEDICA OF WESTERN HERBS, Vitex Medica, New Zealand

Sarris, Jerome and Wardle, Jon; 2014, Clinical Naturopathy 2e, Elsevier, NSW Australia

Impact of thymol in thyme extracts on their antispasmodic action and ciliary clearance https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19809973/

Thymol, thyme, and other plant sources: Health and potential uses https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.6109

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