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Herbology

Physiology

The Respiratory System

The prime function of the respiratory system is to take in air, absorb the oxygen that we need, and expel the excess waste gases, and carbon dioxide.

The air enters our body through the nose and mouth, passes through the trachea tube, and splits into the two bronchi tubes.

These tubes then branch into an extensive network of bronchiole in our lungs, ending in more than 300 million alveoli! It is here that the gas exchange takes place. The blood absorbs the oxygen and the carbon dioxide is eliminated.

I find it very interesting that this process all takes place based on the simple concept of atmospheric pressures of the gases themselves. That is, gas will always move towards areas where it is at a lower pressure, until it reaches equilibrium. Since the partial pressure of oxygen in the air is higher than the partial pressure of oxygen in the body, it will move towards that area, in an effort to reach a balance. The interesting thing is that the ENTIRE body is a pressure gradient - that is each area having a lower and lower gradient, than the one before it. Therefore oxygen is continually pulled into our system in that order: Air > alveoli > arteries > capillaries > intestinal fluid etc. Carbon dioxide on the other hand is identical and yet reversed. The partial pressure of carbon dioxide is higher inside our bodies than the outside air; so that the carbon dioxide moves outside of the body - towards equilibrium. Now, perhaps its because I have a scientific background, but I found it amazing that this relatively simple concept is what runs our entire breathing function!

Now, there are a number of herbs that may assist in respiratory disorders, but it is always important to have a full system analysis to determine the probable causes of each ailment. Although we may experience the same symptoma as our neighbor, it is often not to be treated in the same way, because the underlying causes are often different.

It is important to remember that the respiratory process is controlled by the brain and hence the nervous system plays a very important role. The process of inhalation is controlled by the sympathetic system-norepinephrine dilates the nerves; and exhalation is controlled by the parasympathetic system - acetylcholine constricts them. You can see that different problems in the nervous system may result in different symptoms. As in stress-induced asthma, we can also see the importance of often looking to the nervous system for a problematic respiratory response.

In these instances you will want to use nervine herbs for treating the nervous system. By relaxing the body and reducing stress, the body is more likely to do what it does naturally.

Likewise we need to keep in mind, that the oxygen may be absorbed in the blood stream, but if there are dysfunctions with the circulatory system, it doesn't matter how much oxygen we absorb, if we can't get it to where we need it!

In these cases you may want to consider circulatory herbs, heart tonics, and blood strengtheners, to ensure that the oxygen is getting to all parts of the body, including the brain and the nervous system.

Congestion

Congestion in the lungs may be for two different reasons, and each requires a different herbal treatment. In some cases, there is excessive mucous because the lungs are producing too much of it, while it others it may be because the lungs are not being effective in eliminating it. By carefully observing all systems together, we can then diagnose the cause, and begin to understand the appropriate treatment for each individual.

In conclusion, I would like to simply state that no part of the human body and its functioning systems can be isolated or treated individually. This is only a guideline and only touches on the complexity of the entire respiratory system. The respiratory system, is only one of several other functioning systems in the human body. All are linked, and all will probably never be fully understood. All systems are required to maintain a healthy functional existence.