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Lungs (general health)

General characteristics

General characteristics

The lungs are located in the chest cavity and form a major part of the respiratory system. The lungs are separated from the abdominal cavity by the strong muscular sheet called the diaphragm and are given protection by the ribcage. The main function of the lungs is to absorb fresh oxygen form the air and to expel carbon dioxide and other waste products from the body.
The respiratory system begins with an in-breath from either the nose or the mouth. The air passes down the throat and into the trachea (windpipe) then on into the bronchi which divide in two, one for each lung. The bronchi further divide into smaller bronchioles which eventually terminate in tiny little sac like structures called the alveoli which are richly supplied with tiny blood vessels. In each individual alveoli the exchange of gases takes place, oxygen and any other gases being absorbed into the arterial blood supply to be pumped to the heart whilst venous blood containing carbon dioxide and other wastes diffuses into the lung passages for removal through the out-breath. The smaller passages of the lungs and respiratory system are lined with tiny hair like structures called cilia which serve to trap and hold unwanted particles. The cilia have a wave like motion which helps to propel dirt, dust, excess mucous and other unwanted substances from the lungs by moving upwards towards the throat and nasal passages to be either coughed out or swallowed. The membranes of the lungs also secrete mucous which helps to trap dirt and other particles but also contains immune cells to help fight bacteria and other pathogens. Without the secretion of mucous the lungs would be too dry and incapable of moving physical waste out of the lungs.
The movement of the lungs is generally under the control of the autonomic nervous system and is regulated by changes in pressure within the lungs and the levels of blood carbon dioxide and oxygen. Many other factors including emotional states such as anxiety (often causing faster more shallow breathing), relaxation techniques (e.g. slower, deeper breathing), extremes of temperature (e.g. cold water causes gasping),  coughing, sneezing, laughing, hiccups and so on also impact upon lung movement and function.
The lungs can also be controlled consciously such as when talking, singing, swimming, during breathing exercises etc. The diaphragm, the ribcage and its muscles and also muscles in the neck and shoulders help to orchestrate the lung movement and give rise to the familiar rise and fall of the chest and abdomen during breathing.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Foods rich in anti-oxidants help to keep the lungs healthy and strong by reducing the damage caused by free radicals. Foods rich in anti-oxidants include blueberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, plums, grapes, apples, broccoli and other cabbage like plants, dark green leaves, tomatoes, sweet peppers, green tea and any other foods containing the main anti-oxidant vitamins A, C and E.

Garlic, onions, shallots, chives and other members of the Allium family all contain powerful antibiotic like substances which help to keep the lungs infection free and also thin mucous, making it easier to be coughed up and expelled from the lungs.

Limit your intake of foods which lower vitality and lead to excess mucous production. These include sugary foods and drinks and refined carbohydrates, milk and dairy products and many overly processed foods.

Stay properly hydrated with clean, pure water.

Eat plenty of plant based fibre to keep the bowels clean and regular. Waste products that are reabsorbed and re-circulate in the blood due to constipation place an added burden on the other excretory organs such as the lungs, kidneys and skin.

Include spices such as ginger, chili, black pepper, horseradish and other blood moving herbs and spices in your cooking to help promote lung health.

Turmeric is an excellent spice to add to meals or to take a pinch of powder in a glass of milk or herb tea. It contains many active substances which assist the immune system, cleanse and detox the eliminatory organs and helps protect the lungs from free radical damage, pollution and cancer.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Many herbs are expectorants (cause the lungs to expel mucous) and these are useful when we have an infection in the chest and lung area. They encourage the natural escalator like, upward movement of the cilia and enhance their ability to bring up infected mucous or other irritants. The expectorant herbs include elecampagne root (also a strengthening lung tonic/pectoral herb), wild cherry bark, mullein leaf, balm of gilead buds, white horehound, lobelia, hyssop, coltsfoot and thyme to name but a few.

Herbs like liqourice root, marshmallow root or leaf, slipppery elm, red clover, comfrey leaf, irish moss and iceland moss will help to both lubricate the lungs and expectorate, which can be useful in dry or tickly cough or when the lungs are considered dry and irritated (as in a chronic smoker or coal worker for example). Use in tea form or syrup form for maximum lubricating action.

Plants such as thyme, eucalyptus, pine needles, aniseed, juniper berries, peppermint, basil, oregano/marjoram and rosemary have a disinfectant action on the lungs. Add one or two to a formula based on the herbs from the two categories above.

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) has  the ability to dilate or constrict air passages, depending entirely on the dose taken. It can be invaluable in cases of bronco-constriction such as in asthma. Lobelia must be prescribed by a qualified herbalist or can be easily grown in the back garden and made into a tea or tincture.

Chilli/cayenne also has a profound effect on the good health of the lungs by greatly improving blood flow (and therefore improving nutrition/oxygen supply to and waste removal from the lungs).

Some herbs are considered tonics to the overall health and will also benefit the health of the lungs. These include comfrey leaves. Comfrey leaf should be used dried and only for short periods (a week or so at a time) although many elderly country folk swear by eating just the tip of a fresh comfrey leaf daily to keep strong and healthy long into old age.

Echinacea can help with any sort of infection in the respiratory system.

Nettle tea, taken daily, will provide valuable nutrients to help the entire respiratory system whilst plantain leaves help to give strength to the lungs themselves.

Schisandra berries have a tonic action on the lungs increasing the depth of breaths.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Take regular exercise. Anything that causes you to breathe deeper and raises your heartbeat will benefit the lungs, heart and whole body considerably due to the increase in available oxygen.
Don't smoke. Regular smoking causes damage to the hair like cilia which impairs their ability to expel wastes. Trapped dirt then builds up in the lungs leading to an increase in mucous secretion (in order to 'deal' with the waste) which impairs overall lung function.
Finish your daily shower with a blast of cold water over the chest (front and back), then back to warm to finish. This will make the lungs inhale and exhale deeply and get a boost of oxygen and blood to the area.

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