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Catarrh - A Natural Approach

Updated on December 5, 2011

Causes of Catarrh

Catarrh is usually thought of as a problem of the breathing passages and the sinuses, but can be present elsewhere; in the latter case, it may not be obvious that the problem is related to catarrh.

The mucous membranes of the body are similar to skin in some respects, in that they form the boundary between the body and the outside. It may not be immediately obvious, but from some points of view the contents of the intestines, for example, are actually outside the body. The mucous membranes are the damp membranes lining the mouth, nose, eyelids, lungs, bladder and intestines, and other such body cavities.

Catarrh is basically excess formation of mucus, particularly when it becomes thicker than normal; this can lead to uncomfortable accumulations of it as in colds, bronchitis and sinusitis for example. It ought to be noted that mucus is part of the defence system of the mucus membranes, and as such some production of mucus is essential to health.

Catarrh can be caused in various ways. One is respiratory allergies such as hayfever and the more general form of it, allergic rhinitis; this can be caused by aerial pollen, mould spores and pet dander, for example. This sort of allergy can also be caused by dust mite droppings, which are present in most houses. The reason is that the dust mite likes warm temperatures (more common these days, with central heating being common) and lives in such places as carpets and bedding. It lives on shed skin flakes (a good half of house dust is in fact microscopic particles of human skin) and a lot of people have some degree of allergy to the droppings of this otherwise completely harmless creature.

It ought to be noted, perhaps, that just about all houses harbour this creature. Even the most scrupulously clean house will have a very large population of dust mites, unless perhaps the house is brand new and so are all the furniture, bedding and carpets. Also on the subject of houses, excessively dry air is quite common in centrally heated houses in cold weather. Correcting this can be as simple as draping damp towels over radiators.

Another cause of catarrh is food intolerance, which also relates to intolerance for various common chemicals such as those in aerosol cans and solvent-based cleaners. Probably the most common food intolerance, at least in relation to catarrh, is intolerance to dairy products; this is normally specific to dairy products made from cows’ milk. An exception to this is butter; intolerance to butter is fairly uncommon because it contains very little protein and almost no lactose, the two components of milk that cause most of the problems.

It’s worth expanding on the matter of tomatoes. Tomatoes, particularly green ones, contain an irritant toxin called solanine; this compound irritates the lining of the intestines and can lead to more severe reactions to other foods. Unfortunately, many commercially-sold tomatoes are basically unripe although they look ripe on the shelf. This is because, for commercial reasons, tomatoes (and other fruits) are often picked unripe and artificially ripened when required. This is the reason why a tomato can often be quite red on the outside and green on the inside. The only way to avoid this is to buy vine-ripened (or even better, organic) tomatoes – or grow your own if you have the space.

Smokers are very prone to catarrh. The reason for this is simply that mucus is one of the body’s defences against toxins coming in from outside; smoke, particularly tobacco smoke, is a very good example of this. It ought to be said that if you are prone to catarrh and you are a smoker, then the very first thing to do is stop smoking. This is perhaps easier said than done, unfortunately.

Positive Steps Against Catarrh

Right, that’s what to avoid. What positive steps can be taken?

To reiterate, avoid the foods likely to make catarrh worse. These include cows’ dairy products with the exception of butter; foods with known intolerance problems such as wheat, refined carbohydrates and green tomatoes; artificial additives. For dairy products, substitutes are available including goats’ milk cheese and soya milk.

Another step is to condition the air you most commonly breathe. This includes humidifying the air in some cases; keeping the use of airborne chemicals (“fresh air” sprays, cleaning solvents, etc.) to a minimum; and removing allergenic airborne particles such as mould spores, pollen, cigarette smoke and dust mite droppings. Doing the latter can end up quite expensive; for example, mould spores are a real problem if the house is damp and correcting damp can be a big problem.

However, one way of removing airborne particles is to use an ioniser; these fairly cheap gadgets use electrical charges to pull dust out of the air. In some cases, vacuum cleaners with particularly effective filtration might help; worth considering, especially if you are going to buy a new cleaner anyway. If you are often somewhere with very new carpets or foam-filled furnishings, the chemicals they emit can be removed by various houseplants.

One specific step sometimes worth taking is to change your pillows. Most people wash the pillowcases fairly often, but the actual pillows are often never washed at all; in fact, some types of pillow cannot be washed. Pillows are a problem because your nose is within inches of a heavy concentration of dust mites for several hours at a time. Dustproof inner pillowcases can sometimes help; ditto dustproof mattress covers.

Another step is to improve the condition of the mucous membranes. The steps for this are mostly nutritional; the easiest way to cover everything is a good high-strength, highly absorbable multivitamin. (The main nutrients involved are vitamin A, zinc and B complex.)

Take steps to make the mucus thinner so that your body can get rid of it more easily. By the way, this is one of the cases where the problem gets worse before it gets better; if the body can get rid of mucus then it will, and this may well result in (for example) a runny nose or productive cough for a week or two.

The most common things to help this are herbs and enzymes, also one of the amino acids. Garlic (and to a lesser extent onions and leeks) contain a compound that liquefies mucus by altering the composition of the protein in it. Garlic is also antibacterial and antifungal, so it can help for that reason as well.

Bromelain, nattokinase and especially serrapeptase thin mucus by breaking down the protein that forms part of mucus. This also applies to an amino acid, N-acetyl cysteine. In fact, this compound is so good at this that is used for cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder in which the mucus produced is far more viscous than normal. All of this group of substances are much better taken away from food.

Finally, one low-tech solution to temporary catarrh is a very old-fashioned one; this being a bowl of steaming-hot water, together with something like a towel to keep in the steam. This has been used since time immemorial, and usually helps – at least for temporary problems such as a head cold or acute bronchitis.


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