What Are Respiratory Diseases?
Respiratory diseases are common conditions that affect the respiratory system, which includes the nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. The respiratory system is responsible for ventilation and gas exchange. Mild cases may manifest as coughing, chest pain, and compromised breathing, while severe cases can lead to difficulty breathing, oxygen deficiency, and even respiratory failure resulting in death. The spectrum of conditions includes acute infections (e.g., pneumonia and bronchitis) to chronic diseases (e.g., asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
The human respiratory system is the organ system most frequently exposed to the external environment. Harmful factors in the environment, such as pathogens, dust, and microorganisms, are often major contributors to respiratory diseases. However, the respiratory system’s defense mechanisms purify itself, preventing harmful substances from invading and causing damage. Cilia, the mucociliary clearance system, is a unique protective device of the respiratory tract that transports harmful substances deposited in mucus from bottom to top. The mucus also contains immune-active substances such as lysozyme, interferons, the complement system, secretory IgA, enhancing local immune response.
The alveolar capillary membrane not only clears particles deposited in the lungs but also serves as a selectively permeable barrier, preventing the invasion of inhaled harmful substances into deep lung tissues. Pulmonary macrophages are essential defense cells in the lungs that can engulf inhaled harmful substances, process antigens, transmit antigen information to lymphocytes, enhance immune activity, and participate in specific immune responses. If the defense mechanisms of the respiratory system are compromised, the defense function is reduced, playing a crucial role in the pathogenesis of respiratory diseases.
💡The common cold is the most frequent acute upper respiratory tract infection.
7 Supplements Recommended for Upper Respiratory Tract Care
For centuries, licorice has been used for medicinal purposes. Native to Europe and Asia, it was initially used in tea by ancient Egyptians as a universal remedy. Licorice is suggested for treating respiratory diseases. Taking licorice extract can help the body produce healthy mucus, and clean and healthy phlegm can maintain the normal operation of the respiratory system. Moreover, research has confirmed that compounds extracted from licorice can resist upper respiratory bacteria and viral infections  .
One of the most commonly used medicinal plants globally, elderberry has been traditionally used by Native Americans to treat infections, and ancient Egyptians used it to improve skin color and heal burns. Research has shown that black elderberry extract can reduce the severity and duration of the flu. A study involving 60 flu patients found that those who took 15 ml of elderberry syrup four times a day showed symptom improvement in 2 to 4 days.
Another study with 64 participants found that taking 175 mg of elderberry extract tablets within 24 hours significantly improved flu symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle soreness, and nasal congestion, after 2 days. Additionally, a study involving 312 air travelers found that those who took three capsules containing 300 mg of elderberry extract daily had a shorter and milder illness    .
With numerous health benefits, fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, acerola cherries, black currants, guavas, and rose hips have particularly high vitamin C content  . Sufficient intake of vitamin C may reduce the duration of the common cold and other illnesses   .
Honey has various antibacterial properties that can relieve throat pain. Studies indicate that honey is also an effective cough suppressant. Researchers found that giving children honey before bedtime can reduce the severity of their cough symptoms. However, do not feed honey to children under 1 year old, as honey typically contains spores of Clostridium botulinum. Although harmless to older children and adults, infants’ immune systems are generally unable to resist   .
Native Americans have a history of using echinacea herbal remedies to treat infections for over
400 years. Its active ingredient, flavonoids, can enhance the immune system and reduce inflammation. Echinacea has been identified as having anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. A review suggests that taking echinacea can reduce the risk of catching a common cold and decrease the duration of a cold  . Note that echinacea may raise concerns about immune laziness, so it is not suitable for use in children with an underdeveloped immune system, and it is recommended to discontinue use for a period after continuous use for two weeks.
Commonly used in seasoning and essential oils, thyme’s components help resist bacterial and fungal infections, alleviate coughs and smooth muscle spasms, and have antioxidant effects. A German research institution found that the unique mixture in thyme essential oil can improve the clearance rate of mucus in animal airways and help relax the respiratory tract, improving airflow into the lungs  .
Possessing medicinal properties, ivy was used by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates to prevent poisoning, reduce swelling, and as an anesthetic. Today, herbalists use it to treat respiratory diseases. Research indicates that ivy can help relax the respiratory tract and reduce coughing. Saponin components in ivy leaf extract can expedite the clearance of mucus by relaxing it, generating and secreting a mucous film to enhance oxygen exchange, and relaxing airway muscles to facilitate easier breathing   .