We breathe anywhere from 15 to 25 times each minute. When we inhale, our lungs expand as we bring in air (including oxygen) from the world around us. In the lungs, the air comes into contact with millions of exceptionally thin-walled air sacks called alveoli, which are the primary location for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide within the blood.
Our lungs are elastic and expand and contract as air moves in and out of them. When someone suffers from emphysema, the alveoli lose their elasticity and inhaled air becomes trapped in the sacs, causing oxygen-poor air to remain in the lungs. Without the ability to fully discharge our breath, the normal oxygen exchange in our bodies is diminished.
Emphysema is characterized by the destruction of the alveoli and their supporting tissues and is a chronic, progressive incurable condition of the lungs. At first, sufferers may find it difficult to exhale completely, but as the disorder progresses, they may also find it difficult to breathe. In addition to the respiratory problems caused by this health concern, as stale air builds up in the lungs, it causes the body to become starved for oxygen.
Symptoms often start out as wheezing and coughing and can progress to having a shortness of breath upon the slightest exertion. Other symptoms can include coughing up clear mucus from deep within the lungs, a choking sensation when lying flat and swelling in the legs. For some people, there is a genetic predisposition to developing emphysema, but for many, it develops as the result of environmental pollution and smoking. Also at risk for developing emphysema are individuals who suffer from chronic bronchitis and asthma.
Emphysema cannot be reversed, but natural and alternative health measures can be taken to limit its progression and reduce symptoms.
Recommendations for wellness
- Quit smoking and limit your exposure to toxic air.
- Maintain a normal weight. Excess weight can cause the heart and lungs to work harder.
- Eat a healthy diet of foods that are low in saturated fats and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid foods that contain white flour, are sugar laden or contain dairy products.
- It has been shown that eating several small meals a day eases digestion and makes breathing easier.
- Learn relaxation techniques and find ways to pace your activities.
- Begin an exercise regimen. Talk to your doctor about recommendations for activity levels and restrictions. Exercise helps to build endurance.
- Special breathing exercises have been shown to make breathing easier by supporting your ability to bring more air into the lungs and forcing trapped air out. They also work to strengthen the chest muscles.
- Take steps to support your body’s immune system and reduce your risk of catching a cold or the flu, both of which can impact your lungs.
- Aromatherapy oils such as frankincense, rose damascene, tea tree oil, thyme and eucalyptus all have properties that support the respiratory system.
- The herb lobelia has historically been used as a muscle relaxant and expectorant. It is often recommended for individuals with emphysema.
- Omega 3 oil is often called upon to help reduce inflammation in the body and may help to improve the health of the lung cells.
- Fenugreek and Thyme can open, loosen and stimulate gentle removal of mucus and phlegm from the lungs. It is often used to relieve congestion, reduce inflammation and fight infection.
- Another traditional remedy for conditions of the lungs is lungwort, which has been shown to be very effective for healing affected tissues.
- Red clover has been historically used to control spasmodic coughing.