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General characteristics

General characteristics

Emphysema is classed as a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD) along with chronic bronchitis, though emphysema will show progressive damage to the lung tissues as a feature. The small sac like structures (alveoli) of the lung are slowly destroyed, along with the tiny blood capillaries supplying them. The functioning capacity of the lungs is reduced which causes less oxygen to be absorbed into the blood and less carbon dioxide is expelled.

In the early stages of emphysema the air sacs are inflamed along with the bronchioles, the smaller air passages. In the later stages of the disease the remaining alveoli and bronchioles that are not yet destroyed have reduced elasticity which leaves the lungs feeling puffed up and overinflated. As the degeneration continues, the body attempts to compensate for the reduced level of gas exchange by speeding up the breathing cycle. Over time this low level hyperventilation will fail to compensate as more and more lung tissue is destroyed. This has a detrimental impact on the heart itself which must pump harder to try and supply the lungs with an adequate blood supply, eventually leading to high blood pressure in the lungs and in some cases to heart failure.

The symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath, rapid breathing, a chronic cough, wheeziness, inability to exercise and depression.

Causes include chronic smoking (by far the most common cause), regular inhalation of pollutants (eg. smoke from fires, coal and other dust, air pollution, chemicals), ageing, genetic predisposition, glass and trumpet blowing and immune disorders.

Conventional treatment is based on the use of broncho-dilators (to widen air passages), breathing exercises, oxygen therapy, surgery and steroids or other anti-inflammatory medicines.

Natural treatments aim to improve overall vitality, thin and cleanse mucous, improve circulation and functioning in the lungs and support the heart.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

If you smoke, stop!

Eliminate all cured meats such as sausages, ham, bacon and hotdogs as they have high levels of nitrites in them. Nitrates are very damaging in general.

Cut right down on processed carbohydrates and sweetened dairy produce.

Foods rich in vitamin A should be eaten daily as vitamin A has been shown to increase the elasticity in lung tissue of animals. Foods rich in it include fresh raw carrots (a daily juice would be great), all bright yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, dark green leaves, wheatgrass juice and algaes and seaweeds.

Eat as much raw (organic if possible) fruit and vegetables as possible in the form of salads, juices, nuts and sprouted seeds and grains.

Eat plenty of foods containing plant fibre, fruit, vegetables, wholegrains. Fibre helps keep the bowels regular and this helps the body to get rid of the extra waste burden placed upon it by the under functioning lungs.

Include plenty of garlic and ginger in your diet for their mucous thinning and stimulation of the circulation.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Mullein leaves have been used to help treat chronic lung conditions for centuries. It is anti-inflammatory, helps to clear mucous and reduce the bodies need to cough. You could use in equal parts as a tea along with fennel seed, thyme, elecampagne root, liqourice root, rosehips and add a small clove of crushed garlic, 1 heaped teaspoon per cup and allow to brew for 10 minutes, 3 cups daily.

Famous herbalist Dr Christopher has a formula suitable for all complaints of the respiratory system. It includes equal parts comfrey leaf (originally comfrey root), mullein, chickweed, marshmallow root and lobelia. One cup 2 or 3 times daily. I would also add equal parts plantain leaf to the formula for their strengthening action on lung functioning.

Teas or tinctures of hawthorn berries and flowers and motherwort can help to support the efficient pumping action of the often overworked heart. Use a teaspoon of equal parts of the tinctures 3 times daily or a teaspoon per cup of the dried herbs.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Mustard foot baths are an old gypsy remedy for clearing lung congestion. Crush 2 tablespoons of mustard seeds and add to a bowl of hot water, use powder if seeds are not available. Soak the feet in the water for several minutes and repeat every other evening.
Breathing exercises based on the Buteyko system have shown impressive results in improving the health and lung capacity of those suffering with emphysema.

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