Forest Fires Happen…
The fact that every year across the Northern Hemisphere, Wildfires are more widespread, more numerous and use more and more government resources has most of us pretty worried about the future. Obviously, this is even more dangerous and terrifying for those of us with chronic health problems that are impacted by the smoke and stress.
From a medical perspective, the reality that this is the new ‘normal’ every summer is both disheartening and somewhat urgent for many patients and their clinicians. In this article, you will learn how your lungs work, how they react to wildfire smoke, as well as how to clear your lungs of Particulate Matter (PM) and protect your body for toxins with natural medicines like herbs, Nutritional supplements, medicinal foods, essential oils and some other health ‘hacks’ that your grandmother would have learned as a child.
If this is the way of the future, I encourage you to bookmark this link for next summer. I hope you won’t need it.
Hello, I am your lungs!
What your Lungs do is pretty obvious. You breathe in Oxygen and breathe out Carbon Dioxide. This is called Gas Exchange and it actually happens on a microscopic level inside a structure in your Lungs called Alveoli. On average, an adult has about 300 million Alveoli or little air sacs in their Lungs. This is approximately 30% more than is needed for normal activities. The more physically fit you are, especially with respect to cardiovascular endurance, the more you will stimulate, open and clear these little bubbles of life.
If you are more sedentary, breathe polluted air or have chronic respiratory problems, your Alveoli will be more filled with mucus, be less available to Gas Exchange and have a harder time clearing themselves.
This happens for two fundamental reasons:
Even if you breathe as deep as an Opera singer, your lung’s ability for gas exchange is all about the tiny blood vessels around your Alveoli called Capillaries. If you are not a deep breather, your heart function is diminished of your lungs produce more mucous or other fluids than necessary, your Capillaries will not get enough direct exposure to the air in your Lungs.
“Nothing could be worse for this situation than chronic exposure to noxious gases and potentially toxic microscopic bits of ash.”
Every day, your lungs clear mucous secretions and dust particles with tiny hair-like structures called Cilia. These microscopic ‘limbs’ create a virtual fire-brigade (pardon the pun) by bending down and grabbing some dust/phlegm and then extending upwards to hand it off to the next Cilia. That is a bit oversimplified, but it should give you a sense of how your lungs ‘mechanically’ create those yellowish green lumps of yuck!
The Dangers of Wildfire Smoke
Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant material. In wildfires, carbon monoxide is primarily only a risk to firefighters who work near active Wildfires and smoldering areas. Depending on what is burning, such as trees, bogs, cultivated and pesticide-laden farmland or industrial buildings, the exact composition and relative danger of gasses and the actual size of the Particulate matter will be different. Particles larger than 10 micrometers (PM 10) usually only irritate your eyes, nose, and throat. Much smaller particles, ones smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) can be inhaled into the deepest part of your lungs and may cause much greater health problems.
If you are experiencing serious medical problems for any reason, seek medical attention immediately!
Wildfire Smoke Can Cause the Following Symptoms:
- Watery or dry eyes
- A persistent Cough
- Abundant Phlegm
- Scratchy and Irritated Throat
- Irritated and Congested Sinuses
- Shortness of Breath
- Asthma Attacks
- Irregular Heartbeat
- Chest Pain
Who is Most Susceptible?
Those with pre-existing conditions such as:
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Heart Disease
- Chronic Sinusitis
- Seasonal Allergies
- Depression and Anxiety
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Chronic Reactive Inflammatory Syndrome (CRIS)
- Chronic Degenerative Autoimmune Disease
Protecting Your Lungs with Expectoration
Expectoration is a fancy way of describing what happens when your lungs are congested and your Cilia are doing a good job of bringing up the dust and phlegm of everyday life.
drink water or tea with lemon, ginger, and raw honey. This yummy beverage is safe and time-tested.
Use a humidifier, steam room or hot shower to increase the moisture in your lungs. If you already have a lung issue, ask your clinician to be sure this is for you.
Use pungent herbs and spices as a poultice or chest plaster. A mustard plaster is famous for clearing the lungs but requires some experience to use safely.
Get some percussive massage to loosen up the phlegm and get your chest muscles involved.
Protecting Your Lungs with Essential Oils
Essential oils can be added to a cotton ball and put next to your bed, put in a diffuser to fill a room or you can go Old School and put them in a large bowl of boiling water, then lean over it with a towel over your head and the bowl to keep in the steam. The following oils can help induce expectoration, increase capillary circulation and help clear your mind.
- Eucalyptus Oil
- Peppermint Oil
- Wintergreen Oil
- Tea Tree Oil
- Pine Oil
- Rosemary Oil
- Oregano Oil
- Ginger Oil
- Tangerine Oil
Protecting Your Lungs with Herbal Teas and Broths
There is nothing as comforting as a hot cup of tea or broth. With some careful additions, Tea or Broth can become a nourishing addition to your personal health care.
A mug of Tea or Broth with some additional garlic, ginger, cayenne, and/or sage can help with both expectoration and vasodilation.
A Tea with some Fenugreek, Thyme, and Rosehips is good all around Lung and Immune Tonic.
Golden Mylk with some Broth and Seaweed is a delicious way to reduce inflammation and prevent Cancer. (Here is a recipe for Medical Grade Golden Mylk)
wild chrysanthemum tea (Ye Ju Hua) is a Traditional Chinese medicine to clear your eyes, sinuses and protect your Lungs and Liver.
Tradition Chinese Medicine has several Patent Medicines (over the counter) that are ideal for clearing your Lungs of Phlegm and Ash while soothing the mucous membrane directly.
Slippery Elm Lozenges are also a great way to moisten your lungs and throat while replacing all of that mucus.
Kombucha Tea, although served cold, is a gentle and supportive beverage for your immune system.
Protecting Your Lungs and Body from Toxins
The easiest way to protect your body from toxins is to keep them out of your body. When it comes to Wildfire smoke that means staying indoors, avoiding strenuous activity and even wearing some kind of mask or air filter. If you already have a hard time breathing properly, construction grade respirators and masks can be just as limiting to your ability to breathe. A surgical mask is better for those with limited breath capacity.
Using a Netti Pot is an ancient and effective way to clear your sinuses and stimulate your immune system.
Using high-grade N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) or Liposomal Glutathione are not only good for your lungs. They also stimulate the primary detox pathways in your liver and your 70 trillion cells.
An Epsom Salts Bath is a nice way to relax and allow your blood vessels to relax, improving circulation and detoxification.
Using good quality Vitamin C (three times a day) can support detoxification and membrane repair during times of illness and stress.
Regular Acupuncture or Massage treatments can improve circulation and immunity. Either of these medical treatments can be much more specific depending on your medical history or specific needs.
Protecting Your Immunes System from Over-reactions
One of the weirdest facts in medicine is your immune system is usually the reason your symptoms are getting more acute or more chronic. If your immune system is pissed off and looking for a fight, you are more likely to have an allergic reaction. If your immune system is too tired to do a good job, pathogens can work their way deeper into your body causing more chronic and complicated situations. This is why modulating or balancing your immune system can literally be a lifesaver. This is especially true if you already have an Autoimmune disease. (one is six people have one, BTW).
Below is a list of safe and proven Immune Modulators:
- Vitamin D3 (3 times per day)
- North American Ginseng
- Essential Fatty Acids
- Reishi (at night only)
Protecting Your Lungs with Yummy Food!
Hippocrates said it best over 2,400 years ago. ‘Let thy food be thy medicine.’
I won’t get into the details here, but Chinese Medicine is confident that your lungs LOVE pears and apricots in the Fall. They also really like to have as much squash as you can manage from late Summer into Winter. An old folk Medicine tradition is to dry the skins of Squash and break them up into little pieces and store them for making soups and medicinal broths, especially for your Lungs.
Here are some recipe ideas.
I will leave it to your inner Chef to come up with your favorite version.
Carrot, Orange and Squash Soup
Balsamic Braised Cabbage with Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Seeds
If you are concerned that you need more support in recovering your health and you also want to learn how your body works, what usually goes wrong and what to do about it, Check out my 10 Weeks to Abundant Health Fall Program.
I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
How are you and your Lungs handling the Wildfire season of 2018?