Fall & Winter Respiratory Health

By Dr. Anju Sodhi (BAMS, ND)

Respiratory viruses have already started to affect us this year. We can hear the coughs and sniffles of those around us or have felt the aches and congestion ourselves. With so many different respiratory infections possible, how do we protect our immune systems from so many assaults? The answer is to arm our immune system with as many tools as possible to be alert and ready for action.

            The respiratory system is always filtering and removing particles from the air we breathe. Strengthening the respiratory lining, from our nasal passages to the lungs, will reduce the number of foreign bodies able to cause infection. As the vata of fall and winter increase, our bodies dry up: we notice our skin, guts, and sinuses feeling rough. Similar drying happens internally along the mucosal linings. Using herbs such as Adhatoda vasica will increase healthy mucosal lining as well as stimulate more innate immune cells. It makes the mucus the right kind of sticky and mobile. Ginger and turmeric will reduce inappropriate immune responses, lessening agitation in the lungs. Licorice has been shown to improve the mucus quality and regulate ciliary movement. Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) has been shown to be an immune modulator and antimicrobial.

            Increasing the body’s ability to produce immune cells and communication between them is another way to protect respiratory health. Immune cells slowly get replaced as we age and the ability to communicate to other immune cells can get inhibited with inflammation or imbalanced hormone signaling. Amla fruit has high concentrations of bioavailable vitamin C that help remove some of the excess inflammation. Chavanprash, an ancient Ayurvedic formula, enhances tissues needed for immune cell creation.

            A preventative protocol can be used this season to help avoid respiratory distress. Take 1 teaspoon of chevanprash in the morning and in the evening. To ensure proper energy for cells, take a B vitamin complex once a day. Vitamin D has many roles in the immune system and bone structure. Bone marrow, which is the site of white blood cell production, uses vitamin D to regulate communication from the rest of the body. Take 4000IU a day of Vitamin D.

            Many of the herbs discussed here also take care of another aspect of respiratory health: proper digestion. The way we ingest and absorb nutrients provides the body proper access to energy and building materials. Lessening the stress of the body reduces stress on the immune system. Furthermore, the digestive tract is a primary source of immunity. Ginger and turmeric assist the gut by mitigated some of the effects of improper foods while stimulating intestinal cells to be more efficient absorbing nutrients and rejecting improper particles. Chavanprash contains herbs such as cinnamon, Terminalia chebula, Terminalia belerica. These herbs assist in multiple aspects of digestion, including absorption, motility, and strengthening the junctions between epithelial cells. If the body is giving a large amount of energy to digestion and immune protection to the gut, the lungs are not as well cared for, leaving them vulnerable.

            Herbs can make a big impact, however, lifestyle is key to respiratory health. Getting adequate sleep is crucial during these winter months. Sleep replenishes the body, detoxifies the day's toxins, and is when the body can really work the immune system's muscles. Proper nutrition for one’s body type is necessary for the immune system to function. During the fall and winter, remember to add good fats such as ghee, avocado oil, and olive oil to reduce the dry and cold qualities of vata. Increase plant-based proteins such as beans and tofu. Spice foods to increase digestive power, according to your body type. Increasing vegetables such as squash, carrots, and cooked leafy greens will provide immune uplifting compounds. Making soups eases the energy need for digestion while providing nutrient backed meals.

            Breathing exercises such as kapalabhati and anulom vilom will increase lung capacity and improve the motility of the mucosal lining of the lungs. Both these breaths will help to remove viruses, allergens, and bacteria out of the nasal passages. Walking, running, and yoga will move the chest, massaging respiratory passages. Neti pot is a great way to cleanses the sinuses and further help with nurturing the mucosal lining of both nasal and oral airways.

            Viruses, allergens, and other microbes are not going to stop being introduced to our respiratory passages. We can, however, arm our bodies to deal with everyday exposures and create happier healthy days in fall and winter.