In This Section
Oxygen is required to provide the energy factories of all cells with the fuel they require for life. The work of each cell produces carbon dioxide, a waste product of its intense activity. Because this gas is acidic and toxic to cells, carbon dioxide must be constantly removed to avoid cellular damage. The respiratory system provides the route by which these gas wastes can exit the body and by which air enters.
Gases travel through the body by attaching to blood cells. The cardiovascular system is, therefore, intimately linked to the respiratory system.
The nose & sense of smell
The respiratory system starts and ends at the nose, with the nerve endings for the olfactory nerve (for sensing smell) located in the nasal cavity. Many smells cross the blood brain barrier and have an instant effect on the brain. Such is the danger with glue sniffing. However, other products such as essential oils have smells and chemistry with instant benefit. Smell is also the main component of taste, which is why a heavy mucus cold or chronic catarrh will diminish the sense of taste. Nerve fibres arise from cells in the nasal cavity and pass into the temporal lobe of the brain for interpretation and recognition. A newborn baby smells her mother and turns her head toward the breast from birth, which is an inherent response; as is our response to the smell of pheromones that cause sexual attraction. Other responses are acquired later on in life, creating an individual and unpredictable response to odours. Smell is linked to our memories and odours can produce highly charged emotional responses.
As air passes through the bones of the nose and sinuses in the face it creates turbulence. This helps speech and provides resonance to the voice. Sinuses are easily blocked by excess mucus during a viral infection with subsequent bacterial attack, which can lead to chronic sinusitis.
The pharynx, larynx, trachea and bronchi form the large air passages. Health problems can arise in any of these tissues, mainly from smoking. There are two bronchi, one for each lung. These divide into branches in the lung tissue and their specialised structure maintains an unobstructed passage for air to enter deeper tissue. Highly protective tissue lines the air passages. This produces mucus to trap inhaled particles; tiny hairs in the lining then waft mucus and trapped particles upward to be coughed out. Inhaled air is warmed or cooled and moistened before reaching the sensitive and vulnerable deeper parts of the respiratory system. As the bronchi progressively divide into smaller and smaller branches they become very narrow. They lose the ability to dislodge any particles and these must be removed by the protective cells in the circulatory and lymphatic systems; asbestos dust for example. Finally the bronchioles reach their end stage of division and become alveoli, containing the main cells of lung tissue for gaseous exchange. At this stage any supporting tissue has disappeared.
These cone shaped organs are separated from each other by the heart and large blood vessels with the base of each lung attached to the diaphragm. Each lung is protected by a closed sac called the pleural membrane. The diaphragm and the double arrangement of the pleural membrane are part of the mechanism of respiration and help to increase the size of the lungs to receive air.
Generally we underestimate breathing and its key role in physical and emotional health; other cultures have a deeper understanding of the links between deep breathing and emotional well-being and behaviour as well as expansion of consciousness, prayer and meditation. A freely and fully breathing body is healthy and better equipped with natural defences that protect against negative effects including pollution and infection. One of the most effective ways to stimulate the lymph system for example is belly breathing.
The alveoli in the lungs are a single cell thick and intimately connected to blood capillaries which are also a single cell thick. It is here in these tiny and delicate tissues that the breath of life is exchanged. The transport of gas to the lungs and tissues is a cardiovascular function. It is self-evident that disease in one system has devastating consequences in its sister system.
- Dairy and wheat products are common allergens and the body produces extra mucus in response to the irritation. This means sinus and lung tissue become more clogged. If you suffer with problems in the respiratory system such as asthma it is wise to avoid these foods.
- Nutritional deficiencies also affect the respiratory system; low hydrochloric acid levels in the stomach and a lack of zinc and magnesium are often found in those people who suffer from respiratory diseases.
- Cabbage and garlic are rich in minerals that support health. Other important minerals which will assist respiration are those that support immune system function and include selenium, vitamin C and vitamin A. Superfood Plus is rich in plant minerals and trace elements that support the respiratory system.
- Garlic should be eaten on a daily basis and effectively guards against many respiratory conditions. You can read more about this food in Jill Davies’ book “Garlic”.
- Stimulant herbs, foods and spices can play a vital role because they move blood and act on mucus. As part of your winter health protocol try “Onion & Horseradish Concentrate” as a pleasant hot drink.
- Thyme and hyssop are two herbs that can be used along with elderberries to help manage coughs and colds.
- Herbal teas such as “Breathe & Clear” are a great substitute for tea and coffee and the herbs can support your lungs.
- Minimise your contact with aerosols of any description. It is better to use gentle and effective natural home cleansers that don't expose your lung tissue to damaging sprays.
- Explore hot and cold showers which can help with circulation and lung air exchange.
- In Chinese medicine the lungs are said to be the "female" side of the partnership with the "male" being the colon. When you upset one side of the partnership the other will be in imbalance. If the lungs are not working well the colon will falter, and constipation, diarrhoea and other symptoms can easily develop. Colon cleanses can therefore help maintain the health of the lungs.
- Saunas if taken for short periods of time alternating with cold showers will be beneficial to lung health. Avoid if pregnant, weak or elderly.
- Essential oils can really help breathing and different ones will produce a wide range of effects. Eucalyptus and Camphor will clear and open the lungs and the majority of people will find this mixture most effective. Some asthma sufferers, however, may find that these oils make things worse; use softer essential oils such as Mandarin and Basil that will calm and regulate the breathing.
As well as its obvious effects on the respiratory system, smoking inhibits the circulatory system: it forces the heart to beat faster and creates a constant oxygen deficit, because the carbon monoxide from cigarettes replaces oxygen in the bloodstream. Blood supply to certain areas is so severely reduced that one cigarette creates a 6-hour reduction of blood supply to the hands and feet. Healing of wounds, internal and external, is inevitably slowed down, as are all the other vital functions of oxygen and blood. Blood sugar levels are also severely affected by tobacco.
Nicotine affects the central nervous system and increases levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which is partly why it's addictive. Nicotine and lobelia are similar in some ways, so for anyone wishing to give up smoking the herb lobelia would be an ideal substitute, with no side effects except thoroughly positive ones. Seek the assistance of a qualified herbalist if you wish to try it. When you stop smoking, you may feel sleepier with less stimulation – if this presents a problem your herbalist can again assist you with stimulant herbs such as prickly ash berries (which will almost instantly bring oxygen to the brain). Bowel function is often affected, as smoking is a stimulant and laxative – bowel herbs may be necessary for a time.
Our herbal formulae are strong flavoured and effective. Our herbs enjoy a long history of use. A large proportion of them are grown in English soils, harvested using bio-chemistry analysis and many of them are processed fresh, which heightens their remedial properties. The majority are grown organically and are sustainable and wild-crafted. All manufacturing is carried out using licensed good manufacturing practice.