By Binu T. Kuruvilla, MBBS
In the time it takes to read this article, you’ll take an estimated 150 breaths. You probably won’t even notice. That’s the way it should be. However, for those with a lung disease, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, breathing can’t be taken for granted. The simple act of breathing can be a struggle, and the prognosis for someone with one of those diseases is often poor. Unfortunately chronic lung diseases are on the rise, while effective treatments can be hard to find or come with a laundry list of serious side effects. Natural remedies, however, can make a profound difference in the lives of those affected.
How the lungs function
The lungs are sponge-like organs that are responsible for taking in oxygen while expelling carbon dioxide. When we breathe in, the air goes down our trachea—better known as the windpipe—to the bronchi, which are the main passageways that carry air through the lungs. The air then flows into smaller bronchioles that branch off of the bronchi. At the end of each of these bronchioles are microscopic air sacs called alveoli. These sacs have a permeable outer layer that allows air exchange. In other words, this is where oxygen is taken into our bloodstream and carbon dioxide is released back into lungs. Once this occurs, we exhale and the air is expelled.
When our lungs are healthy, we don’t even think about this complicated process of air exchange. But for those with chronic respiratory problems, just taking a breath can be a challenge.
COPD is a type of chronic and progressive lung disease that encompasses two serious respiratory conditions—emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD affects at least 11 million Americans and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The most common cause of COPD is smoking. However, exposure to chemicals or industrial dust and lung damage from preterm birth may also cause COPD.
If you have COPD, the airways become inflamed. Over time, the airways and air sacs lose their elasticity and the walls between air sacs are destroyed. Mucus also builds up and clogs the lungs. Unfortunately, this lung damage can’t be reversed, but catching the disease early, making lifestyle changes, and getting effective treatment can make a big difference in the quality of life. It’s important to know the symptoms of COPD because many people don’t see a doctor until the disease has begun to make their lives miserable. See your healthcare provider if you have a persistent cough that just won’t go away, or are coughing up extra mucus, and are often short of breath, especially after exercise.
Imagine that you’re going about your day when suddenly you start wheezing and your chest gets tight. You begin coughing and you can’t seem to stop. Your face is pale and sweaty. As you struggle to breathe, your fingernails start turning blue. And you start to panic! That’s an asthma attack. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, over 25 million Americans suffer from asthma. People of all ages can have asthma, but it most often develops in childhood. Sometimes the condition is mild, and the symptoms go away with little or no treatment. Asthma can also be severe—even fatal. Tragically, an estimated nine people die of asthma every day.
People with asthma develop swollen, inflamed airways that are overly sensitive to certain triggers like respiratory infections, cigarette smoke, or physical activity. Allergies are also common triggers, especially among children. When someone is exposed to a trigger, the airways create extra mucus and swell even more.
Breathe Better with Boswellia
Boswellia—an ancient herb long used for lung conditions—is at the top of the list of herbal therapies for COPD and other lung conditions. The reason boswellia works so well is because some of its natural acid constituents, particularly acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA), tame a potent inflammatory enzyme in the body called 5-lipoxygenase or 5-LOX. This pro-inflammatory substance has been implicated in various inflammatory diseases, including COPD and asthma. Preliminary research suggests that lower 5-LOX levels mean less airway reactivity—which is promising news for people with these chronic lung diseases.
One of these studies, which was published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Pathology, reported that boswellia also reduced airway inflammation and resistance. The herb also helped to maintain normal immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels. IgE is an antibody involved in allergic reactions. Since the most common form of asthma is allergenic asthma, this is very good news.
In a German double-blind, clinical trial, patients with asthma received 300 mg of boswellia or placebo three times daily for six weeks. The results of this study were dramatic: 70 percent of patients in the boswellia group showed improvements in their symptoms. Only 27 percent of patients showed improvement in the placebo group. But boswellia isn’t just effective for COPD and asthma. Pulmonary fibrosis is an especially serious lung condition where scar tissue develops in the lungs, causing thickening and stiffening. Egyptian researchers found that supplementing with a boswellia extract for one month significantly reduced the inflammatory markers associated with the condition. In addition, they found that boswellia decreased several indicators of the disease, including the number of cells affected by the fibrosis, the lung architecture destruction, and the progression of the lung fibrosis itself. The researchers suggested that boswellia’s ability to block 5-LOX was the reason it was able to prevent the progression of the disease.
Binu T. Kuruvilla, MBBS, serves as Assistant General Manager of Research and Development of Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd. He is keenly involved in preclinical and human clinical trials, with expertise in oncology, cardiovascular, metabolic, inflammatory, and neurodegenerative disorders.