Breathing. It’s something we usually do about 20,000 times each day. We hardly give our breath a second thought—until an irritation causes us to struggle for that next breath. Difficulty breathing can be triggered by asthma—the number one reason kids and teens miss school on a regular basis—or bronchitis, from environmental factors like pollution, or from a common cold or allergies. It’s also a key symptom of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis. Keeping the upper respiratory tract operating smoothly—the ability to easily inhale life-giving oxygen so it can then travel through the sinuses and—is priority number one. Some time-tested and proven botanicals can supply you with the assistance you need for a healthy respiratory system.
Boswellia is a powerhouse when it comes to respiratory care. As an anti-inflammatory, it has the unique ability to inhibit an enzyme called 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), a pro-inflammatory enzyme. The boswellic acids in boswellia extinguish 5-LOX inflammation. The most active of these acids is known as Acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid or AKBA. To get the respiratory benefit from boswellia, choose an extract that contains at least 10 percent naturally occurring AKBA. But be aware that boswellia also contains an unwanted element called beta-boswellic acid, an acid known to cause inflammation. Make sure you choose a product that has been purified to reduce this compound.
What can you expect when you choose the right boswellia extract (also known as frankincense), which comes from the resin of the boswellia tree? Open airways, reduced sinus and bronchial swelling, and fewer asthma and allergy symptoms—all welcome benefits to anyone suffering from respiratory ailments. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 40 patients with bronchial asthma, 70 percent of those patients taking 300 mg of boswellia three times a day showed marked improvement compared to just 27 percent in the placebo group. Boswellia can also inhibit the action of mast cells—a type of white blood cell that releases the histamine responsible for that sneezing, irritation, congestion, watery eyes, and excessive mucus. Inhibiting histamine is another significant benefit of boswellia. For a real respiratory boost, look for a product that incorporates boswellia, ravintsara, thyme, and myrtle.
Any respiratory condition brings along with it a high level of inflammation. Ravintsara, an essential oil derived from a tree belonging to the Lauraceae family, is rich in a compound with an unusual name—1,8-cineole. This compound makes ravintsara highly beneficial for the respiratory system, acting as a potent anti-inflammatory. Grown in Madagascar, research also suggests that ravintsara has strong antibacterial potential, can help improve lung function, and opens bronchial airways. Not to be confused with ravintsara essential oil commonly used in aromatherapy, you want to choose a supplement that has this specialized oil extract for internal use. Choose one that has a supercritical CO2 extract version of the oil so you are assured of a product without contamination from heavy metals or chemicals that could actually cause bronchial issues.
When you think myrtle, think concentrated power to relieve congestion. This herb has been extensively studied and has been shown to stimulate the rhythmic waving and beating motion of cilia, the tiny, hairlike organelles in the respiratory system that brush out mucus and congestion. That ability is due to 1,8-cineole. A scientific term based on how the atom is bonded to carbon atoms, 1,8-cineole relieves coughs, opens bronchial airways, breaks down and dissolves mucus, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. One study found that myrtle essential oil was significantly superior for treating sinusitis symptoms compared to a placebo. It was suggested as a preferred course of action before turning to a pharmaceutical antibiotic. Myrtle is an excellent companion to eucalyptus to help you breathe easier.
Eucalyptus can battle a broad range of bacteria, again thanks to 1,8-cineole. Known for its distinctive aroma, eucalyptus can ease inflammation and relieve congestion. When this natural oil is taken in capsule form, it can thin mucus, which then drains more easily from the body, and provides much-needed relief from respiratory blockage and problems. Like myrtle, it also stimulates cilia in the sinuses and lungs, further encouraging the body to sweep away congestion. While there are various types of eucalyptus used to make the essential oil, the best route is to seek out the oil of Eucalyptus radiata. Your respiratory system deserves this type of eucalyptus, which contains 65 to 70 percent 1,8-cineole, as well as alpha-Pinene and limonene—all compounds that will get the job done with strong anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and decongestant capabilities. Eucalyptus pairs perfectly with myrtle for strong respiratory support.
Anyone who has dealt with chronic asthma knows that severe attacks can lead to the use of steroids for breathing relief. The 1,8-cineole in eucalyptus has been shown to be an effective replacement for prescription steroids. A study conducted at the Medical Outpatient Clinic at University Hospital Bonn in Germany showed the effectiveness of the oral compound for asthma patients. The results? An impressive 12 of the 16 patients in the cineole group (versus 4 of the 16 patients in the placebo group) were able to reduce their use of conventional steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine. Considering the many side effects of steroid use, this is encouraging news. Combining eucalyptus with myrtle leaf oil is a forceful formula for sinus and upper respiratory support.
For spasmodic coughing and that “tickling” feeling in the throat, thyme is the answer. Thyme provides the natural compounds of thymol and carvacrol to relax airways in the lungs. It also increases the movement of the cilia so they can more efficiently loosen phlegm and keep mucus moving. A supercritical CO2 extract version of the oil is the best choice. Thyme has been studied for years for respiratory health. It’s also excellent when combined with ivy extract to thin mucus—making coughs more productive and eventually getting rid of the need to cough. Studies have also shown it to be very helpful with bronchitis. When 1,234 children, ages 2 to 17, who suffered from bronchitis, were given a syrup of thyme and ivy extract, they improved by an impressive 81 percent. It’s a safe and welcome answer for coughing kids.
Aromatherapy Essential Oils are Not the Same
The concentrated plant oils recommended throughout this article are specifically approved for internal use. These oils are not the same as those used in aromatherapy, which are oils specifically used externally, typically aromatically or topically. Instead, encapsulated essential oils for internal use are tested and “fingerprinted” from a specific species, molecular makeup, and purity level that are designated to be used internally.