Smorgasbord Health – The Lungs – Part Four – Pneumonia – the most common cause of death of children worldwide!

As part of the series on essential minerals I covered the subject of Asthma recently so won’t include in this series on the lungs.  But if you are interested in reading more about this particular respiratory disease then you can find the details in this post. Asthma

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.

Streptococcus pneumoniae

Bacterial pneumonia

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

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

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.

Next time – Lung Cancer – and then diet that helps your lungs stay healthy.

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009

Smorgasbord Health Column- The Lungs – Part Two. Acute and Chronic diseases.

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.

Most of us do not have a doctor on call 24 hours a day – I am not being flippant but it is getting increasingly difficult to get an appointment within a two to three day window and in some cases two to three weeks! 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

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

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.

Pleural Lining


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.

As we move through the series I will be covering Lung Cancer, Asthma and Pneumonia separately and then the specific diet to protect the lungs. The breathing exercises that I have already blogged are in the archives and they are great for increasing the flexibility of these essential organs.

© Sally Georgina Cronin – 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

Your feedback is always welcome and if you do find that following any of the series that I have shared are beneficial then it would be great to hear about it.. you can email me on



Coughing and Spluttering and losing your hair? – Thyme for herbs.

As part of the Winterise your body I have been covering some herbs that might help protect or help alleviate symptoms should you get a cold or other infection.  Although we are now in the season to be merry…. there is an increased opportunity for interaction between strangers and we also tend to get more friendly at this time of the year… hugging and kissing friends and family may get you more than you bargained for.

If this is the case then having Thyme in your natural medicine cabinet is useful and as a side benefit it might help if you are going a bit thin on top…

It is also a wonderfully healthy ingredient to your cooking as you will see.


This versatile herb can be used to flavour many wonderful dishes. As with most of our herbs, thyme has a long and revered history medicinally and if you had been a prominent Egyptian the herb would have been used to embalm you. Since the herb has antibacterial and antifungal properties it would have helped preserve the bodies beautifully.


The Greeks and Romans used thyme as a purifier, burning it as incense in rooms and added to their bathwater. It was also added to food such as cheese and alcohol – again probably because of its antibacterial properties and it may well be one of the first natural preservatives used in food manufacture.

It became better known in Britain in the 17th century and healers used the herb to relieve the symptoms of whooping cough, breathing difficulties, gout and mild stomach complaints. The oil has been used externally to help heal abscesses and during the First World War it was used to treat infections and relieve pain, as there were no antibiotics at that time.

Today the herb is cultivated all around the world and apart from cooking and medicine it is used in the manufacture of cosmetics and perfume.

How does thyme help the lungs?

As humans we have a sophisticated defence system to try and get rid of harmful substances before they can damage us. The cough reflex is an automatic response to mucus and infection in the lungs. Thyme helps the body with that job, and acts as an expectorant loosening the congestion and generally supporting the respiratory system. It also helps soothe coughs allowing a more effective use of the response, allowing the airways to get rid of more mucous. It is particularly beneficial for emphysema and chronic bronchitis sufferers. It can also be used in conjunction with other herbs such as cowslip to aid the absorption of thyme but also as an expectorant.

The list of thyme’s medicinal properties is quite lengthy but apart from its antibacterial uses it also is anti-fungal, antiseptic, antiparasitic, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic, expectorant, immune boosting, sedating or stimulating according to dosage and is a tonic.

As well as upper respiratory infections and lung conditions it has also been used medicinally to treat colic, depression, arthritis, eating disorders, ear infections, gastritis, hay-fever, headaches, heartburn, parasites, shingles , tooth decay and tetanus.  There is traditional use for bed-wetting in children but as it is also a mild diuretic I would want to see evidence of that.  It does however; disinfect the urine which can be helpful for those who suffer frequent bouts of cystitis.

Taken an hour before meals, it may stimulate the appetite, useful for someone who is elderly or recovering from illness.

A useful treatment is one for alopecia – so if you are going a little thin on top you might want to try a little of the oil in your shampoo and conditioner. Might save you from resorting to other less effective methods..

bald before and afterIt certainly is very versatile but you do need to take care when using medicinally and consult an herbalist for the correct dosage.

The plant contains some helpful nutrients, the primary being Vitamin K which is why this herb does need to be used with caution.  Because it is so important to be aware of the ingredients of any herb that you take, here is a brief description of Vitamin K and its actions on the body.

Vitamin K

There are two forms of the vitamin that the body can utilise.  One is K1 (phylloquinone), which is from plant sources and the other is K2 (menaquinone) which is produced by bacteria in our own intestines.  This is where many of us get into trouble because we are not eating sufficient raw and unprocessed foods for health and additionally many of us suffer from bacterial imbalances in the gut so do not produce sufficient from that source either.

The vitamin is fat-soluble and is stored in the liver. Studies indicate that approximately 50% of the stores come from our diet and the balance from bacteria in the intestines.  We need healthy bile production for efficient absorption of Vitamin K and for our lymphatic system to circulate it throughout the body.

Apart from helping reduce excessive bleeding during menstruation it is also used therapeutically for the prevention of internal bleeding and haemorrhages including emergency treatment for overdoses of blood thinners such as Warfarin.

Blood clotting is a critical function in the body that solidifies blood to prevent us from bleeding to death from external or internal injuries. Vitamin K is essential for the production of a protein called prothrombin and other factors involved in the blood-clotting function, and is therefore necessary to prevent excessive blood loss.  Also interestingly Vitamin K also activates other enzymes that decrease the clotting ability so it assumes the role of regulator within the blood stream.  An example of this might be if a clot forms within a blood vessel that could block the flow and needs to be dispersed.

The vitamin has also been the subject of a great deal of research in recent years as scientists discovered that it played a significant role in liver function, energy production in the nervous system and in preventing bone loss as we age by assisting the absorption of calcium.

Vitamin K is needed to activate osteocalcin, the protein that anchors calcium into the bone, building and repairing the structure.  A deficiency in the vitamin can therefore lead to brittle bones and osteoporosis.

As the vitamin works within the body it changes from function to function according to the various interactions with enzymes and at one stage it acts as an antioxidant preventing oxidative damage to cells.  There may also be a role for the vitamin in cancer prevention as it is believed it may stimulate rogue cells to self-destruct.

When not to take Thyme as an herbal remedy.

Because of the high Vitamin K content and the effect on blood clotting you need to stop taking at least three weeks before having surgery. If you are also on medication that has this effect then you should not take the herb. For example, many people from middle age onwards are now being prescribed low dose aspirin to thin the blood so you should not take Thyme in an herbal form. Warfarin is a high dose anticoagulant and it would be dangerous to combine the two.

If in any doubt consult your doctor and always before taking any herbal remedy or check with a qualified advisor. If you feel that the person you have asked, in a health food shop for example does not appear to be informed, then, there should be an herbal reference guide in all dispensaries that gives the action and precautions of every remedy they sell.  If they do not have a guide for you to read then buy somewhere else. I have worked with A. Vogel herbal remedies for over 20 years. is one you might try.

Read the instructions for dosage on the bottle which is dependent on age and health.

The other nutrients in Thyme that make it a useful component in your diet are; iron, manganese, calcium, and tryptophan.

Thyme is a versatile herb and it is wonderful with meat dishes. It is quite pungent so take care when using fresh thyme and only use a little at time.

If you have a cold I suggest making a tea with a small amount of leaves, seep for five minutes and then add fresh lemon juice and a teaspoon of honey. You will find it not only refreshing but it may also help prevent your infection reaching the next level.

You can buy thyme in capsule form and it often comes with another herb called fenugreek which is another expectorant and herb used in the treatment of lung disorders. The oil is used externally and is very warming when rubbed on the chest during bronchitis or pneumonia.

And on a lighter note…..

coughing elephant