This current virus is respiratory and those with underlying health issues such as COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are at greater risk during recovery. Aging also results in reduced lung function as we become less active and for many, become chair bound without access to the outdoors. Lungs stiffen and cannot express inflammation or infection in an efficient way.
Without oxygen we will die in approximately 6 minutes, without water about 6 days and food around 6 weeks.
For an action that is so vital to our existence, you will be surprised to find that very few people actually breathe efficiently and are not maintaining lung adequate lung function. In the posts on building our resilience to this disease and other respiratory infections, I will be sharing breathing exercises and also lifestyle and nutritional support for the lungs.
The Lungs and their function.
We only have a very short period of time between stopping breathing and our major organs such as the heart and brain becoming oxygen starved and dying. In fact about six minutes depending on age and fitness and the circumstances.
Despite being the bellows that keep these two major organs alive, the lungs rarely get press – unless it is part of a stop smoking campaign – yet if you were to examine the death certificates of people over 80 years old for the last 100 years or so you will probably find that pneumonia is the number one killer.
There is a reason we have a rib cage and that is to protect the major organs that keep us alive. When you look at all the posed pictures in the media of celebrities and their selfies, one would assume that the chest area was purely cosmetic. In fact it houses the engine that keeps us running.
Without oxygen both the heart and the brain would cease to function in just a matter of minutes – so ensuring the health of our lungs is vital. This is partly achieved by leading a healthy lifestyle, including taking exercise and not smoking, but there are also hidden dangers to the health of our lungs in our environment and in the food that we eat.
There are many diseases associated with our lungs, including cancer, asthma, acute and chronic bronchitis, emphysema and silicosis and of course pneumonia. Some of these I will look at in later blogs for a little light reading! The early symptoms of these diseases are easy to miss and confused with cold and flu symptoms so understanding the structure of these organs and how they operate could make a difference to how fast you receive treatment for potentially serious diseases.
Eating healthily will certainly decrease your risk of contracting some of these diseases but it is also important to monitor your immediate environment carefully to avoid possible contaminants and triggers for poor lung function. Later in the posts, I will cover the effect that cigarette smoke has on the lungs – and being a non-smoker yourself is little protection if the people around you continue to blow smoke into your airways. (There is nothing worse than a reformed smoker!)
All our cells need oxygen. Our nose is not just a pretty feature on our face and serves a vital role as the filtration system for the air that we breathe. As we inhale air into the nasal passages it is cleaned, warmed and humidified before entering the pharynx.
The pharynx is the area at the back of the mouth and slightly down into the throat. There are a number of parts to the pharynx and the upper part is called the nasopharynx and forms the back of the nose. The lower part of the pharynx is at the back of the mouth and forms part of the airway from the mouth and lungs and is called the oropharynx and the muscles here help shape the sounds of speech as they come from the larynx.
The larynx or voice box sits between the pharynx and the trachea. It is made up of cartilage and connective tissue. A flap at the top of the larynx is called the epiglottis and this ensures that air can enter the trachea in the open position but it can shut to prevent food from also getting into the airways. Most of us have inhaled something, like breadcrumbs in the past, which has led to a coughing fit and this is when the epiglottis has failed to shut quickly enough. It is vital that foreign bodies do not enter any further into the airways and the coughing reflex is actually a very strong survival trait. If particles of food reach the delicate lining of the lungs it can cause an infection to build up leading to pneumonia. It is also another good reason not to talk with your mouth full!
Across the larynx are the vocal cords which are responsible for our speech and these can become inflamed and sore when we have been shouting or singing too loudly and have caused mild damage to the cords.
From the larynx the air will pass into the trachea which is more commonly known as the “windpipe” and this splits into two bronchi taking air into the right and left lobes of the lungs.
The lungs are two air sacs of differing sizes that fill the thorax, which is the part of the body between the neck and the abdomen. The thorax is encased in the safety of the rib cage supported by intercostal muscles and protects both the lungs and the heart. At the bottom of the thorax is the diaphragm, a dome shaped muscle which separates the chest cavity from the abdomen.
The right lung is larger than the left as the heart takes up a lot of room on the left side of the chest cavity. Each lung is divided into lobes with three in the right lung, upper, middle and lower and two in the left lung, upper and lower.
The lungs are kept open by a thin, fluid lining around the lungs and the chest wall called the pleural membrane, which creates surface tension. This also allows the lungs and chest wall to move easily together as you breathe. When the chest expands to inhale air the lungs are pulled towards the chest wall by the tension, expanding their capacity. When we exhale air the muscles relax slowly allowing the lungs to deflate gently. If that surface tension is broken by air getting between the chest wall and the lung, the lung springs back too suddenly and it results in a pneumothorax or collapsed lung.
The Pleural membrane.
Inside the lungs there is a network of tubes of varying sizes. The bronchi are the muscular tubes that bring the air into each lung and here they separate again into two smaller size bronchi before branching out into much smaller bronchioles. These bronchioles end in elastic and thin walled air sacs called alveoli. As an essential part of our immune system, on the inside of each alveoli are white defensive blood cells called macrophages, which trap and destroy any inhaled bacteria and other toxins preventing disease.
As the lungs are vital to the supply of oxygen to the rest of the body there needs to be an exchange system once the air is in the lungs. The pulmonary arteries run parallel to the main bronchi as they enter the right and left lungs and they also branch out into smaller and smaller blood vessels running beside the bronchioles and when they reach the alveoli they form a network of capillaries around them. The oxygen from the air is then transferred to the capillaries and then onto the pulmonary vein, out of the lungs and into the left side of the heart. In a reverse process the carbon dioxide which has been collected by the blood from the body is transferred back into the alveoli up through the network of tubes and out of the body.
How do we breathe?
The pressure inside and outside of the body is different. Humans breathe in an average air pressure of 760 mm Hg (millimetres of mercury) or 14.7 lbs. per square inch. This is called one atmosphere of pressure and is measured at sea level. If you have watched mountaineering programmes you will be familiar with the breathing difficulties associated with higher altitudes and this is because the majority of us are adapted to breathing at sea level. Of course cultures that already live at altitude are acclimatised and have no problem with working with an alternative pressure.
Before taking a breath the pressure is almost equal inside and outside of the chest cavity. During an intake of breath the diaphragm contracts and increases the size of the chest cavity, dropping the pressure inside the lungs and in the space between the two layers of the membrane around the lungs, called the pleural space. Air rushes into the lungs to equalise the pressure. As the diaphragm relaxes and pressure rises in the chest cavity to equalise the pressure again the air is exhaled.
Acute and Chronic diseases that can take your breath away!
In the first post I looked at the structure of the lungs and how we breathe. The purpose of these blogs is not to scare but to provide some insight into how these organs work and what effect our diet and lifestyle can have on their efficiency. As I mentioned before, the lungs get a lot less media attention than the heart and brain, but in essence we only live for around six minutes if these two bellows fail. Life becomes very restricted if the lungs are damaged or impaired in any way as we find it difficult to inhale enough oxygen for our other organs to function well and also to exhale toxins that then build up and play havoc with our general health.
The initial 48 hour window is critical for most sickness. Unless you are sure that it is a common cold or the flu, any problem that is associated with front or back chest pain should be looked at immediately. Whilst there are clear signs of a heart event in the upper body that are covered in another series, you need to be concerned with pain to the sides of your chest or in your upper and central back area. This could indicate that you might have a lung problem that needs to be looked at.
Here is a brief look at some of more serious issues associated with the lungs that are mainly lifestyle related, with individual blogs to follow on Asthma, Pneumonia and Lung Cancer. I will also include the nutrients that are essential for lung health and a diet to follow to boost the immune system so that you body can fight off the infections
If we do not eat a healthy diet we will be more prone to minor infections that are likely to develop into these more serious illnesses. Our lungs need exercise to keep them fit and flexible and smoking, or being around smokers, will damage your lungs in varying degrees.
For anyone who suffers repeatedly from colds, bronchitis is always a possibility. There are two types of the disease. Acute bronchitis refers to the here and now and will last up to six weeks whereas chronic bronchitis infers long term symptoms that can last up to two years or longer if the infection is topped up from time to time by colds and flu.
Bronchitis usually follows an upper respiratory infection and is caused by the inflammation of the mucous membranes in the bronchial tubes. The membrane swells, thickens and obviously narrows the already tiny airways throughout the lungs. Our body’s response is to cough continuously to rid us of the infection, which produces the classic symptom of bronchitis. Thick phlegm is produced and there is usually breathlessness, fever and sometimes middle back pain.
Acute bronchitis is nearly always caused by viral infections but repeated attacks can lead to the chronic condition.
Chronic bronchitis is often caused by environmental pollution. It could be chemicals in the workplace or simply in the air around where a person lives. It is however very closely linked to long term smoking or passive smoking and as many people find it difficult to give up cigarettes the condition is never cured and usually leads to Emphysema.
The leading cause of emphysema is smoking and it is a long term and chronic condition. When you smoke, the alveoli or air sacs are damaged and therefore over a period of time not only are you prone to infection, but your lung capacity is diminished. There is evidence that suggests that if you give up smoking some of the damage can be repaired with improved lung function. There is also a link to air pollution but it is usually in combination with smoking or living in a smoky environment.
In recent years, a genetic link to emphysema has been identified. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency is a rare genetic disorder, which results in a person missing a vital enzyme that normally protects the lungs. A combination of smoking and this deficiency will inevitably lead to emphysema.
The most common symptoms of the disease are shortness of breath, the chest becoming barrel shaped, chronic wheezing, fatigue and unexplained weight loss.
Cystic fibrosis is the most common genetic disease affecting young children. It affects not just the lungs but the digestive system and results in a build-up of mucus preventing the clearing of bacteria from the lungs. This leads to a constant cycle of infections and permanent damage to the lung tissue. In the digestive tract, mucous prevents the efficient processing of food and it also blocks the ducts in the pancreas preventing the release of digestive enzymes. The role of these enzymes is to assist the body in digesting food and extracting nutrients. Without this process the body receives none of the essential components it needs to function properly including immune function which is so necessary to prevent frequent infections.
The treatment for this disease involves heavy doses of artificial enzymes with every meal and a demanding physical therapy routine to keep the lungs clear of mucous and functioning.
People are born with cystic fibrosis although a much higher number of people carry the defective gene. A carrier has only one copy of the defective gene but if they then have a child with another carrier the odds of their children having the disease are greatly increased.
There is a 25% chance that their child will have the disease, a 50% chance that the child will not have the disease but will be a carrier and only a 25% chance that they will not have the disease or be a carrier. In a family with two carrier parents there is no way to tell if all the children will have the disease, some of them or none of them. Genetic testing of suspect carriers should always be carried out before having children and as there is usually a great deal of family evidence of the disease. Anyone who has a history should automatically undergo testing with their partner to establish if they are both positive for the gene.
The long term prognosis for cystic fibrosis sufferers is much improved since research has identified both the genetic link and modern treatments but it is still a devastating illness to live with and also to support for family and friends. Hopefully continued research into genetics will result in not just prevention but a cure for the disease.
Pulmonary hypertension is a rise in blood pressure within the pulmonary artery caused by either a reduction in circulation or a rise in pressure in the lower chambers of the heart. The combination results in pulmonary heart disease.
Following chronic lung disease there is usually extensive damage to lung tissue and the alveoli or air sacs. The blood vessels in the lungs narrow over a period of time and oxygen is therefore restricted and in an effort to pump additional supplies around the body the right ventricle has to work a lot harder. In doing so it enlarges, putting strain on the heart muscles and their performance begins to deteriorate. Pressure in the veins returning the blood to the heart then have to work harder forcing water to leak from the blood stream into surrounding tissues. This leads to one of the classic symptoms of pulmonary heart disease, which is oedema or swelling in the lower legs spreading to the rest of the body.
The most common cause of the development of this condition is chronic lung infections or smoking that has led to extensive damage of the lung tissue.
In the first blog on the lungs I talked about the membranes that encase the organs and the fluid that ensures that the lungs can move smoothly as they inflate and deflate. This is called the pleura and although normally there is barely any space between the two membranes if the fluid content increases for some reason, a cavity develops.
There are two main causes of pleurisy, one is a direct infection by bacteria or virus after infection or perhaps physical damage and the other is a follow on from lung infections such as pneumonia.
Pleurisy can be dry or wet depending on the cause. In dry pleurisy there is no increase in fluid in the pleural cavity and the increased effort resulting from the infection means that the lungs rub and grate against each other and the walls of the cavity causing extreme pain at the outer edges of the chest.
Wet pleurisy can develop from this, increasing the fluid, which becomes a mixture of blood and lymph as the body’s immune system goes into overdrive. This will restrict the lungs movements making breathing difficult but may ease the pain as the lungs are no longer in contact with the chest walls. As the fluid builds up it will affect other occupants of the chest cavity including the heart that may become displaced. Over a relatively short period of time the person’s condition can deteriorate very rapidly and become dangerous.
If an upper respiratory infection develops into a chest infection it is important to make sure that you monitor the symptoms carefully. As soon as a pain develops in the back or in the chest you should go to your doctor. This is particularly relevant for the very young and the elderly who are the most vulnerable.
According to the world health organisation Pneumonia is the leading course of death in children. That surprised me too. I know that it the most common cause of death written on a death certificate for the elderly, and it is because these are the two most vulnerable groups in our society wherever we live.
In the post on asthma, I looked at some common allergic reasons for this condition and now I am going to look at pneumonia which is an inflammation or infection of the lungs most commonly caused by a bacteria or virus.
The origin of the word pneumonia is from the Greek pneuma – meaning air, and pneumon, – meaning lung, with pneumonia meaning inflammation of the lung.
There are approximately 30 causes of pneumonia and before the use of antibiotics over a third of the victims of this disease died. Today it tends to be young children, the elderly, or people with existing debilitating conditions, who are likely to contract pneumonia.
What are the most common types of pneumonia?
There are two categories of pneumonia that all types fall into. One is infective pneumonia and the other is aspiration pneumonia.
Infective pneumonia is when the bronchial tubes and lungs become infected and inflamed by either bacteria or a virus that has entered the lungs and reproduced.
Bacteria are not choosy and anyone can become infected. The most common culprit is Streptococcus pneumoniae or Pneumococcus (pictured above). In these cases one or other of the lobes of the lung are affected. The onset of this form of pneumonia is very rapid with high fever and breathing difficulties within the first few hours and with the very young and the elderly seeking medical help immediately is vital as their immune systems are unable to cope with the ferocity of the infection.
There are are further complications with this specific bacteria as it can affect other parts of the body such as the brain where it becomes meningitis. This diagnosis is a parent’s worst nightmare and this is why understanding the symptoms early can be so important. The bacteria is easily transportable in the bloodstream to all parts of the body, so if not treated can lead to a serious strain on the immune system. Bacterial pneumonia normally responds to a strong dose of antibiotics but as with many diseases today some of the bacteria responsible for pneumonia have become resistant to those currently in use.
Viral pneumonia is the most common form of the disease, although it does not always have the worst symptoms. It quite commonly follows another upper respiratory disease – when viruses coughed out of the lungs get inhaled back into the air sacs to begin another infection. The onset is usually less rapid than the bacterial form of the disease, beginning with a persistent cough, high fever and possibly nausea. The usual treatment unless the problem is very severe is patience whilst the infection runs its course. This is where eating a diet rich in anti-oxidants and plenty of fluids will help to build up the immune system and support the body whilst it recovers.
Aspiration pneumonia is any condition where a foreign substance such as vomit, mucous or other fluids such as saliva have been inhaled into the lungs. This obviously applies to external contaminants such as chemicals. This can effect young babies who tend to lie on their backs and have not mastered the swallow reflex. Also, toddlers, who play with miniature toys, or sweets, are also at risk and there have been cases where the epiglottis has failed to block their entry into the lungs leading to inflammation and infection. The elderly also are at risk through ill fitting dentures and poor dental health that minimises the amount of chewing of the food in the first place. Because all of the body is working less efficiently, particles of food can be inhaled into the lungs causing an infection.
A chemical inhalant can be extremely damaging in the long term. Apart from the normal inflammation of the alveoli, at the tips of the bronchial tubes, the acidity and reaction of the chemical can also do extensive damage to the lung tissue resulting in permanent damage.
How can you avoid contracting pneumonia?
It is important to boost your immune system to prevent infections, particularly if you are going to be admitted to hospital for an invasive operation. Despite their life-saving capabilities, hospitals are also a thriving incubator for infection and unfortunately most people who are rushed in for an emergency may not be in the best of health.
To me, this is one of the most compelling reasons to eat a healthy diet. It is a form of insurance that should be taken out along with car, house and possibly private health insurance. Many people only begin to eat healthily after the event, when they have been scared into it by a heart attack or a run in with a vicious infection.
The majority of people suffer first and foremost from a repressed immune system, which is why they keep getting repeated infections such as colds. After a relatively short period of time the body becomes more and more vulnerable to more aggressive infections such as pneumonia.
Ensure you are following at least a basic healthy eating plan which should include lots of brightly coloured fruits, such as oranges and apples, and vegetables – particularly dark green leafy kinds such as spinach and broccoli. Do not starve yourself and ensure plenty of variety so that you get the widest possible spread of nutrients. Cook from Scratch is a habit that we should all get into for life. The effect of processed foods on our immune system is long lasting and particularly for the young who are likely to see the results of our modern diet earlier and earlier in their lives.
One of the major problems with the elderly is their lack of appetite, which needs to be stimulated with tasty snacks 5 or 6 times a day, and nutrient dense foods such as bananas, rich vegetable soups, pureed vegetables that are easy to absorb and eggs are perfect for this as you can eat slightly less whilst still getting the nutrients. Soft fruits and vegetable juices are perfect, as they are concentrated and easy to digest.
For children who are picky and will not eat their fruit and vegetables you can make smoothies with vegetables and fruit and pureed soups that hide the fact they are eating Brussel sprouts.
What else should you do to avoid contagion?
- · One of the easiest precautions that you can take to avoid getting a cold or flu that might turn into pneumonia is to wash your hands thoroughly before eating and after contact with other people. Hot water and soap is usually sufficient although there are a number of antibacterial products on the market.
- · If you have a cold, or flu, use tissues rather than hankies and always throw them away when you have used once. Not very cost effective but it prevents you re-infecting your nasal passages with the bacteria or flu when you blow your nose repeatedly.
- · If you have a cold, or a person you know has one, then avoid kissing them or touching them with your hands unless you can wash them straight away. It is so easy to touch your mouth and nose and infect yourself within minutes.
- · If you are a smoker or are in close proximity to one you will find that the alveoli in your lungs are already damaged and therefore susceptible to inflammation and infection. There is only one thing for this and that is to stop smoking and stub out the cigarette of anyone else in your vicinity.
- · If you are using strong cleaning products always open a window and if possible use a mask. This obviously applies in a work situation where health and safety regulations should be observed stringently. Those of us who colour our own hair should always open the nearest window for example.
- · If you are in the garden and spraying weeds or using fertiliser do not do so on a windy day and wear a mask over mouth and nose as well as protective clothing. Always hose off boots and clothing outside.
In summary, you need to build your immune system and adopt some simple everyday hygiene standards and it will greatly reduce your risk of contracting this second stage infection.
What is asthma?
The actual word asthma comes from the Greek azein meaning to breathe hard. It is an intermittent disease unlike chronic conditions such as cystic fibrosis, chronic bronchitis or emphysema.
The bronchial tubes in the lungs are made of muscle and a mucus membrane. During an asthma attack this mucus membrane becomes inflamed and swollen causing the muscles to contract and create spasms. Air movement is restricted and as it tries to escape from the bronchi it causes the wheezing which is the most common symptom of asthma.
Attacks vary in severity but they can easily spiral out of control, particularly in young children who are more inclined to panic. If the attack is not controlled either by medication or relaxation techniques there is a danger that the airways will close completely cutting off the supply of oxygen to the major organs and the rest of the body.
What causes asthma?
The word syndrome, when associated with a disease, implies that the cause is usually unknown and this is the case with Asthma. Until recently Asthma was divided into two types, allergic (Extrinsic) and non-allergic (Intrinsic).
Researchers have now discovered a number of classifications within the two main recognised causes that help isolate possible triggers.
Over 90% of asthma sufferers are going to be suffering from allergic asthma and the triggers for this are very widespread. It could be from pets, cigarette smoke, pollen, dust mites, foods and other common pollutants such as chemicals in the workplace.
When children suffer from asthma it is considered to be the allergic kind and there is evidence to suggest that boys are more at risk than girls are. There are a number of possible food triggers that might be responsible but there is a definite link between smoking and pregnancy. If the mother smokes the foetus will not have mature lungs at birth. If the mother or other people around the baby continue to smoke the exposure will trigger an asthma attack.
What are the most common asthma triggers?
This list is not exhaustive but does represent the most common allergens that are likely to trigger an asthma attack.
- · Additives and preservatives in food such as tartrazine and sulphites.
- · Alcohol
- · Air conditioning
- · Animal saliva and urine
- · Animal mites
- · Chemicals
- · Cold air
- · Colds and upper respiratory infections
- · Drug reactions (anaphylactic shock to aspirin, tetanus)
- · Dust mites and their droppings
- · Exercise
- · Fungal infections such as Candida
- · Fumes from paints
- · Hair products such as sprays and colorants
- · High humidity
- · Nuts
- · Pillows containing feathers
- · Plastics, PVC and latex
- · Sawdust
- · Shellfish
- · Smoke
- · Solvents
- · Stress
- · Tobacco smoke
- · Tree and grass pollens.
If a child seems to suffer from a persistent hacking, or congested cough it might indicate the onset of asthma and it is a very good idea to get them checked by a doctor.
A very young baby may suffer from a persistent cough and also have strange muscular contractions between the rib cage when inhaling. A baby might flare at the nostrils when feeding indicating that it is having breathing difficulties. If the baby is breathing more than 40 times per minute when sleeping, then you should mention it to your doctor immediately.
What about non-allergic asthma?
Non- Allergic asthma is not likely in children and tends to develop in adults in their 40’s. This may be an accumulative exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace, smoking, perfumes, a tendency towards upper respiratory tract infections or intolerance to cold air. There are some indications that people who suffer from severe indigestion, including reflux, may also be at risk of an asthma attack.
If there is a family risk of allergies, including asthma, there is a possibility that strenuous exercise could trigger an attack. A combination of increased breathing rate with a loss of heat and moisture in the lungs can cause coughing throughout the exercise. In cold and dry weather the symptoms may develop into a full-blown asthma attack.
When is an attack likely to take place?
An attack can take place at any time but it is very common at night and for some reason the most likely time is between midnight and 4 am. There are a number of possible causes such as mites and dry skin cells in the bedclothes and also sleeping position and fluctuations in bedroom temperature. Being night-time only serves to make the attack even more frightening than normal, particularly for children, or if it is the first attack the sufferer has experienced.
What are the common symptoms of an asthma attack?
It is very important to prevent the early symptoms from escalating into a full-blown asthma attack and it is just as vital for family and friends to understand and recognise the initial signs so that they can support and help the victim.
The most common signs are a dry persistent cough with breathlessness followed by a tight feeling in the chest. As I have already mentioned, wheezing is very likely, as are signs of a panic attack. The victim is likely to become very agitated with sweating and increased pulse rate. The natural instinct is to rid the airways of the inflamed mucus and coughing is the body’s way of achieving this.
As the attack progresses to an acute stage there will be evidence of lack of oxygen by way of a bluish tint around the lips, face, gums and nail beds. It is vital that medical assistance is called immediately.
How can you help someone who is suffering an asthma attack?
It is very important that you keep calm. The ability to breath is fundamental and when that is restricted it is extremely hard not to panic and you will need to help them keep focused until medical assistance reaches you. A person who has been asthmatic most of their lives will have an inhaler and will be practised in dealing with the situation while waiting for help but there will be occasions when an attack happens unexpectedly or for the first time and in that case you will need to be active to ensure their best chances of recovery.
As with a heart attack the sitting position is the best for the person to adopt, probably upright on the edge of a bed or sofa with something to lean on in front of them.
Keep reassuring them and try to get them to breathe deeply and evenly with you and this is easier if you are in front of them and they are focused on your mouth and eyes.
Pursed lip breathing is used by both asthmatics and athletes to expel the build-up of carbon dioxide in the restricted airways. They need to inhale as normal through the nose and then exhale by “blowing” out the air quite vigorously. This stretches the bronchial tubes and helps get rid of the excess carbon dioxide.
Keep reassuring them that everything will be fine and that help is on the way.
How can an attack be prevented?
In this modern world it is virtually impossible to remove all the possible triggers from an individual’s environment. You can take steps in the home to remove potential culprits although if you love your cat or dog it is certainly not easy.
With pets you need to minimise the areas that their dander and mites can gather such as carpets and soft furnishings. Marble or wood floors are a great deal more hygienic than carpeting, especially in the bedroom. Don’t allow pets on the furniture or beds and always make sure that hands are washed after handling them.
If there are rugs in the house then they need to be vacuumed every day. The same goes for sofas and chairs. Bedding needs special attention and pillows and duvets should contain man-made fillings not feathers. Change linen as frequently as possible and make sure that it is washed at 55°C (130°F) to kill any dust mites and remove allergens. Use organic washing powders to reduce the risk of a reaction.
For children it is not only the family pet that might cause a reaction. Stuffed toys can also be well loved and handled. Stick teddy in the freezer for 24 hours every few days and this will kill off dust mites. Change a child’s bed linen every day as well as pyjamas.
What about food triggers for asthma?
As I have already mentioned there are certain additives and preservatives that could trigger an asthma attack. There are also certain foods that can cause a reaction and these are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy products, wheat, fish and shellfish.
Experts believe that relatively few asthmatics are actually affected by these food triggers but they are known allergens, that can cause anaphylactic shock in some people, so should be suspect.
There has been some research into the effect of casein, which is a milk protein and a known allergen on the increasing rates of asthma in children, particularly those in deprived areas. The premise is that children in these areas are given a great deal of milk and cheese through welfare agencies and as a result asthma rates have increased significantly in relation to children in other environments.
It has been proved in other studies that eating dairy products increases the levels of mucus and as it is the inflammation of the mucus in the bronchial tubes that results in asthma attacks, it makes sense to consider dairy products as a major suspect food.
In addition to foods that we eat naturally in our diet, there are also hidden dangers in processed foods and if you are are a regular visitor you will know that I prefer the ‘Cook From Scratch’ method of all food preparation.
As you know, I rarely advocate eliminating any food permanently but in the case of life-threatening allergic food reactions, there are some compelling reasons for not eating foods that you strongly suspect of triggering an asthma attack.
If you eliminate the suspect foods that I mentioned completely, for at least six weeks and then re-introduce them, in a very diluted form, you will be able to determine if there is any reaction.
There are also a number of allergy testing services available – but make sure that they are reputable and that any elimination of foods is carefully monitored and the effects measured from week to week.
Is there anything else that will decrease the risk of asthma attacks?
It is very important to maintain a healthy immune system. The last thing an asthmatic needs is to suffer from frequent infections, particularly of the upper respiratory tract. Colds and bronchitis are potentially very damaging to the already weakened respiratory system so a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables is essential.
Exercise is also very important, especially walking, which is unlikely to trigger an exercise related attack unless the air is very cold. If you are exercising outside in the winter it is important to wear a scarf around your lower face to ensure that air is warmed before entering the nasal passages and airways.
Lifting weights under supervision will help develop the muscles in the thorax and help control breathing more effectively.
Relaxation is another key factor, especially at the onset of an attack, and many sufferers find that yoga techniques help them relieve the stress and prevent the attack from escalating.
The latest statistics indicate that there 1.1 billion smokers in the world with approximately 800,000 being men. There has been a decline in smoking in countries who have banned smoking in public places and made advertising and access to them more difficult. However, every time I go shopping in my local Tesco there are two or three people in the queue at customer services buying three or four packs of cigarettes that are dispensed from a hidden compartment. I am always staggered at the amount they are handing over which is currently 11 euro a packet.
As you will see I am an ex-smoker and I do understand the addiction to smoking.. I just know that the rewards of giving up are more than financial. My addiction, like many of my age group began when we started passive smoking at a very early age.
Where my addiction began.
My father smoked from age 12 he told me. In his time in the Royal Navy he smoked unfiltered duty frees and he continued to smoke until his diagnosis with prostate cancer at 76 years old. He didn’t die of that but the radiation treatment he received caused a fatal blood disorder. It was over 21 years ago and treatment was a lot less refined back then.
I started smoking at 14. My father would smoke around 15 to 16 cigarettes a day and he would then throw the packet with the remaining cigarettes into the top drawer of his dresser and at the end of the week he would consolidate all the extra ones into a packet to start the week. I assumed that he lost count of how many were in the seven packets and working on that assumption; I liberated one cigarette a day for my own consumption. (I never got caught, and sometimes I wish I had been as it might have ended my addiction before it really started)
I finally gave up smoking at age 39 as I was heading for an operation of my own. I was smoking around 20 to 30 a day and apart from anything else at £1.50 a packet I could not really afford the habit. I know that at the current cost of nearly £8.50 per packet, £4,600 per year I certainly could not afford to smoke. Of course of that £4,600 approximately £3,500 is going into governmental coffers!
Bearing in mind that it is estimated that 10 million adults smoke in the UK, and if everyone of them smoked a packet a day, the resulting money going straight into the Government pocket is around £3billion pounds a year. Although they claim that this is to pay for health care of those that smoke I am cynical. Whilst the public message is give up smoking I wonder if they are really keen to lose those billions of revenue per year!
100,000 people die from smoking related disease each year. That is too high a price to pay for a pleasure that simply goes up in smoke.
After 25 years I do not know if I have dodged the bullet but I do believe that I gave myself a fighting chance by giving up when I did. Addiction to anything is tough to beat. But there are plenty of options to help someone these days and they can be effective if you meet them halfway.
It is important to remember that it is not just the lungs that are at risk from smoking but all your major organs including the heart and brain. Yes, there are some lucky individuals who smoke until 100 and get away with it – but they are in the minority and usually have extraordinary immune systems that have kept them healthy.
Some of the people around them however, may not have been so lucky and here is a short but sobering extract from an article that should make any smoker think about the impact they are making on those they love and consider friends.
Breathing in other people’s smoke, also called second-hand smoke, can cause cancer. Passive smoking can increase a non-smoker’s risk of getting lung cancer by a quarter, and may also increase the risk of cancers of the larynx (voice box) and pharynx (upper throat).
Second-hand smoke can cause other health problems too. Every year, second-hand smoke kills thousands of people in the UK from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and the lung disease Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Cancer research UK
How lung cancer develops.
Just the words lung cancer are enough to terrify most people but it still does not seem to deter a large number of smokers who continue to inhale carcinogenic fumes every time they light up.
Although there are work-related contaminants that can result in lung cancer such as asbestos and coal tar, they only represent around 15% of all cases of lung cancer. Smoking or inhaling second hand smoke causes the remaining 85%.
The best preventative is not to smoke at all but even giving up right now will reduce the risk from developing cancer in the future.
Cancer is a disease of abnormal cells. Normal cells reproduce through their lifetime in a controlled manner replacing old tissue and repairing damage. Abnormal cells are rogues that are out of control increasing rapidly either in a localised spot in the body (benign tumour) or by spreading throughout the body developing tumours as they go (malignant tumour). The blood and the lymphatic system provide the perfect transport for these rogue cells and when they form a new growth it is called a secondary tumour or metastasis.
There are a number of different types of cancer cell that can affect the lung but they are all opportunists and if the lung tissues are already damaged by smoking it will be vulnerable to them all.
Smoke inhalation damages the normal cleansing process of the lungs so that debris and toxins can accumulate. Hair like cilia on the cells within the bronchial tubes usually beat rhythmically to move mucous continuously upward and out of the lungs but smoke that is inhaled cause these fine hairs to disappear and the lining of the bronchial tubes thickens and narrows in an effort to protect the tissues from further damage.
Perhaps seeing a pair of healthy lungs beside an image of a smokers lungs might convince you to give up smoking more than my words. If you know people who smoke around you then you might like to share this with them.
Sources: Click to access ASH_93.pdf
I am sure that if you are a regular visitor to the blog that you know that I am an advocate for eating a natural, unprocessed diet at least 80% of the time as it is essential to your health. As is reducing the refined sugars which impact the ability of your immune system, to clear the body of toxins, and to provide an effective defence system.
In addition there are certain nutrients that are of specific benefit to the lungs and if you have a weakness in this area, such as repeated bronchitis or other chest infections, you should consider including more of the particular foods in your diet on a regular basis.
I advise that you obtain these nutrients from food sources as this is the most effective way for the body to process and use. Taking supplements is not something to contemplate lightly. Whilst it might seem cost effective to respond to the cheap adverts in the papers it can be a false economy with much of the tablet passing straight through you without any impact on your nutritional health. However, during an illness or when you are recovering, you might consider taking a high quality supplement under the guidance of a qualified nutrititional advisor or pharmacist.
The old saying “Trust your gut” is very appropriate in relation to our immune system and our general health. By eating a balanced and varied diet you will be supporting the billions of flora in your gut that are essential for the efficient digestion and processing of the food that you eat. Without the right balance of bacteria you would not be able to process and harness the energy from carbohydrates or the nutritional benefits of fats. Your healthy diet of vegetables and fruit would be a waste of time without the right elements to process and extract the vitamins and minerals to deliver to the body.
Back to the 80/20% rule.. If 80% of your diet is natural, unprocessed foods your gut bacteria will have plenty to work with. Here are some of the specific nutrients that support your respiratory system.. Provided you have nurtured the processing plant of bacteria in your gut!
Vitamin A, which is a wonderful antioxidant, has a specific role in the lungs. It prevents damage to the small hairs (Cilia) inside the bronchial tubes that help move mucous and trapped toxins out of the lungs. Vitamin A is converted by the body into a number of other substances that are crucial in the efficiency of our immune systems by stimulating the activity of the killer cells, macrophages and other blood cells.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin mainly found in Liver, Fish Liver oils, Butter, Cheese, Free Range Eggs, Oily Fish. Beta-carotene is converted from plant sources by the body into Vitamin A and is found in Carrots, Green leafy vegetables, Orange and Red coloured Vegetables. Particularly apricots, asparagus, broccoli, butter, cantaloupe melon, carrots, cashews, cheese, nectarines, peaches, peppers and spinach.
There is some evidence to suggest that Vitamin C can help prevent oxidative damage to tissues in the lungs and it is therefore another reason to enjoy a diet that is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. If you are still a smoker or have recently given up it is a good idea to also take a Vitamin C supplement of at least 1,000 mg per day to help your lungs recover more effectively. Vitamin C will also boost your immune system and help your body fight off infections. Tomato and Onion soup is a wonderful expectorant, as well as being packed with other nutrients to support you while you recover.
Vitamin C is water soluble and found in all fruit and vegetables with best sources being Blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cherries, grapefruits, guavas, kiwi fruit, lemons, parsley, peppers, rose hips, potatoes, tomatoes and watercress.
Vitamin E, which is another powerful antioxidant, may also help relieve breathing problems particularly for emphysema sufferers and can be taken from food sources and also in supplement form but under the supervision of a health professional.
Vitamin E is fat soluble and found in nuts such as almonds and walnuts, sunflower seeds and their oil, whole grains like maize, egg yolks and leafy green vegetables like spinach. Also found in apples, bananas, broccoli, brown rice, carrots, lamb’s liver, onions, Sunflower oil, oily fish and shellfish.
Quercitin is an antioxidant flavonoid, which inhibits the activity of cells that release histamine from mast cells. It works very well with Vitamin C and might help relieve the symptoms of allergic asthma. It is also an anti-inflammatory, which should help relieve some of the symptoms associated with lung problems. Eating foods that contain Quercitin every day may help prevent infection in the first place but certainly they should be included any diet during the first few days and during recovery.
Zinc, in conjunction with Vitamin C, is a powerful combination that can assist the normal healing processes in the body. I take both as supplements if I feel I am about to come down with an infection and with the inclusion of lots of citrus fruit in my diet I can usually shake off a cold before it gets a chance to take hold. Zinc helps repair damage in the body and for men approaching middle age it may help prevent an enlarged prostate or possibly other health problems. Certainly, eating a handful of pumpkin seeds which are rich in other nutrients too will do more good than harm for your entire body.
The best food sources for Zinc are seafood (particularly oysters), pumpkinseeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, egg yolks, black-eyed peas and tofu.
Improving lung function.
This current virus is respiratory and those with underlying health issues such as COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are at greater risk during recovery. Aging also results in reduced lung function as we become less active and for many, become chair bound without access to the outdoors. Lungs stiffen and cannot express inflammation or infection in an efficient way.
For an action that is so vital to our existence, you will be surprised to find that very few people actually breathe efficiently and are not maintaining lung adequate lung function. By the end of the first week you should notice a difference in the ease with which you complete the exercises and also when you are active.
The aim is to increase the flexibility and the capacity of your lungs, giving them a better chance of fighting off infection.
Breathing exercises – First thing every morning and evening before bed.
Our breath is much more than just an intake of oxygen. It is our connection to life itself as without air we would die. There are 4 parts to every breath,
The inhale, a moment’s pause, the exhale and another natural moment’s pause before the next inhale. Exhale usually longer than the inhale.
If you can complete these exercises in the fresh air, preferably with some sunshine, you will also help boost your Vitamin D.
Stand with arms loose by your side, the whole body relaxed and still. The posture straight but not held taut. The shoulders rolling back and down to open the chest and release neck/shoulder tension.
As you inhale slowly lift the arms out and up above your head with palms parallel. As you exhale, release the arms back down gently to your sides.
So not only do you receive a gentle stretch to wake you up, but also there is more space in the body to take a deeper inhalation. It is very simple but very effective. The most important thing is to unite the length of the inhale with the rise of the arms so that when the arms reach the furthest point above the head you have completed the inhale; there is a tiny pause, then the exhale down, slowly lowering the arms. When they reach your side the exhale is finished.
Generally the exhale is longer than the inhale as you are ridding the body of impurities with it. Then a little pause. The movements follow the breath, like surfing a wave. Don’t rush the moves or you will get tense, better to do them slowly and relaxed with total concentration, better still outside (on a beach) or in front of an open window to receive all that free energy!
Practice for several minutes or at least 12 times. Better to do 12 focused breaths then 25 rushed ones. Quality versus quantity.
If you suffer with high blood pressure and or restrictive shoulder/ arm movements, better to take the arms up only as far as the shoulder height.
Lie down on your back on the floor. If you suffer with lower back pain, better to have your knees resting up over on sofa or chair. If your head doesn’t relax onto the ground easily, use a cushion.
Start with hands on lower belly, fingers pointing down to groin. Notice how you are breathing. The breath reflects our mental, physical and emotional state.
After several minutes consciously encourage the beginning of the breath into the belly to feel the hands rise with the inhale and relax down with the exhale. So you are using the abdomen to breath. This in good health should happen spontaneously, but all too often with stress many people breath only using the upper chest.
Do this for several minutes, then place the arms out in a cross, shoulder height with palms up. Now there is more room to take the breath up into the middle lungs, feel the movement of the rib cage outwards and upwards. But you still begin each breath down deep in the belly. Do this for several minutes, relaxing the body on the exhale.
Last of all, slide the arms higher up above your head relaxing on the floor, if you cannot do this due to tension or injury, leave them where they were in a cross. The purpose of this move is to now bring more space and awareness to the upper chest towards the base of the throat. There is little movement here compared to the ribs, but you can feel the rising of the chest and collarbone to the throat and chin at the peak of the inhale, just before you exhale.
So you now have 3 places to breathe into, the abdomen, the ribs and the upper chest to make one long, deep, satisfying breath. Feel each of the 3 places as the breath flows up the trunk as one long wave. As you exhale the wave retreats back down to the lower abdomen. Remember to feel the slight pause between inhales and exhales, but don’t hold your breath.
Try and practice this for at least 5 minutes, but 10 is better. It also helps improve your posture with the back flat and the arms out.
©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2020
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020