A natural approach to respiratory tract infections

In this article, we take a look at what you can do or take to prevent, alleviate or cure respiratory tract infections naturally. As many complementary and alternative medicine therapies haven't undergone rigorous testing, we base the recommendations here on the amount of evidence that is currently available (indicated with asterisks):

Natural Steps for Respiratory Tract Infections (check the Evidence rating)
*** Good Evidence of a health benefit.
** Some Evidence of a health benefit.
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence.

Incorporate lifestyle habits that strengthen the immune system ***

  • Stop smoking
  • Stress management
  • Daily relaxation
  • Healthy exercise programme
  • Healthy eating plan
  • Wash hands appropriately

Avoid foods that weaken the immune system **

  • Refined and processed foods
  • Dairy and high fat products
  • Sugar and high sugar products
  • Alcohol

These nutrients have been shown to help Respiratory Tract Infections:

  • Vitamin C **
  • Vitamin E *
  • Selenium *
  • Zinc *
  • Zinc lozenge **

The following herbs are normally used for respiratory tract infections:

  • Echinacea **
  • Pineapple extract with bromelain **
  • Hydrastis Canadensis **
  • Liquorice root **
  • Garlic **
  • Quercetin **

Homeopathics remedies to help Respiratory Tract Infections:

  • Antimonium tart *
  • Rumex crispus *
  • Pulatilla *
  • Phosphorus *
  • Bryonia *
  • Kali bich *
  • Spongia tosta *

Alternative/complementary therapy
The most commonly used complementary approaches to respiratory tract infections are:

  • Herbal Medicine **
  • Naturopathic Medicine **

Please Note: This natural medicine guide does not replace the assessment and advice of your doctor.

Consultation with your health professional is extremely important if you are experiencing persistent or severe symptoms of respiratory tract infections.

According to natural health expert, Dr Arien van der Merwe, our bodies are not neatly divided into a system, but act as an integrating whole. Infections and allergies should thus also be regarded as a way that our bodies use to communicate something to us. An overtaxed immune system is often a sign of unrelenting stress in our lives.

Stress management, daily relaxation, exercise, healthy eating plan, etc. would all form a part of the natural treatment of upper respiratory infections (including tonsillitis and ear infections) and allergies (including hay fever and sinusitis).

The division into a more systematic approach is for convenience sake and it makes it easier if a malfunctioning system is identified and corrected through micronutrients that restore the efficiency of the enzyme activity in that specific system.

Natural remedies

What to do

1. Mini steam bath
Fill a bowl with boiling water and add five drops of eucalyptus or camphor essential oil. Bend over the bowl with a towel over your head to trap the steam, and slowly breathe it in.

2. Run a hot bath to beat a cold
Mix together two drops each of lavender, bergamot and tea-tree essential oils to four teaspoons of carrier oil (sweet almond, jojoba and avocado oils work best) or full cream milk. Add to a hot bath, get in and relax for a minimum of 20 minutes. Caution: This bath should not be taken by pregnant women or people with sensitive skin.

3. Wash your hands
It has been suggested that Japan has had the lowest number of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) cases in the whole of Asia thanks to the hygiene habits of her people who frequently wash their hands. To prevent an upper respiratory tract infection it is advisable to wash your hands often, especially when you are around people with hay fever, sinusitis, colds and tonsillitis. Avoid sneezing without covering your mouth. Also avoid spreading nasal secretions on your hands and use disposable tissues rather than a handkerchief.

4. Stop smoking
Stop smoking too because smoking irritates the mucous membranes of the nose, sinuses, and lungs, which may make them more susceptible to infections. Also keep your stress levels under control. If you are exposed to cold viruses, a high level of stress may increase your chances of catching a cold or any other upper respiratory tract infection.

What to take
Says Dr Van der Merwe: "The following list of micronutrients and medicinal herbs support the function of the respiratory system recommended for people suffering from hayfever, chronic respiratory infections, colds, sinusitis, middle ear infections or tonsillitis. These ingredients were chosen for their specific role in sustaining respiratory function. There will, of course, be overlapping of support for the other systems of the body." For a detailed discussion of the micronutrients, refer to Van der Merwe's book 'Health & Happiness' (Tafelberg Publishers, 3rd print 2001).

1. Micronitrients
Van der Merwe recommends the following micronutrients for "the treatment of all deviations in the functioning of the respiratory tract. These can all be found in one or two supplements, so look around and don't buy all as separate ingredients: Vitamin A, beta and mixed carotenes, vitamin D, the minerals zinc, calcium and magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B-complex (B1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 12), essential fatty acids."

"Histidine stimulates the repair of tissues after injury (infections or irritation from smoke)," continues Van der Merwe, "and reduces and controls histamine production; thereby helpful in the management of allergies and inflammation."

2. Herbal help
Consult your doctor or a professional herbal practitioner before using any of the herbs mentioned in the following section, especially if you are pregnant, suffer from a chronic disease or are on other medication. Also read the section on herb safety.

"Medicinal herbs can be very helpful in the natural treatment of respiratory infections and allergies," says Van der Merwe. "They are, however, medicines and should be used while symptoms last and then stopped. Herbs are not supplements to be used every day, but the following when used properly can help: garlic, chickweed, liquorice root, Echinacea, Hydrastis Canadensis (golden seal), pineapple extract with bromelain, quercetin."

3. Homeopathic remedies for bronchitis
The following homeopathic remedies were recommended to ease bronchitis by qualified homeopath, Dr Debbie Smith. Match your specific condition to the remedy suggested:

Antimonium tart – cough sound loose, but continuous cough does not bring up expectoration, causing wheezing.

Rumex crispus – respiratory organs extremely sensitive to atmospheric changes. The patient prefers to have his head covered. Coughing is initiated by tickling in the supra sternal fossa and extends to the stomach.

Pulatilla – cough is loose, and the expectoration is copious and thick. A warm room makes the cough worse.

Phosphorus – pain under the sternum when coughing. Suffocative pressure in the upper part of the chest with a constriction of the larynx.

Bryonia – when the cough is worse at night and the pain is in the chest or throat.

Kali bich – cough accompanied by thick, stringy mucus.

Spongia tosta – barking cough that increases with excitement, and feels better with hot drinks.

This article was contributed to by natural health expert Dr Arien van der Merwe (MBChB). You can order her following books, published by Tafelberg, in English and Afrikaans online at Kalahari.net:
Health & Happiness
Geluk & Gesondheid
Herbal Remedies
Kruie met Geneeskrag

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