Chronic congestion and cough clears naturally
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Client names and identifying information changed
This is really a double case study; a retired husband and wife come to see me a few years back. They had a great time travelling around Australia for many months and were in good health, until they visited their children and grandchildren. The kids had a bronchial infection that Margaret and Tom both contracted.
Initially, they didn’t think much of it because the kids appeared to get over it quickly. But the cough stayed with Margaret and Tom, even after they didn’t feel sick anymore. This went on for weeks until they saw their doctor who promptly put them onto a double course of antibiotics. With no change in their cough, they continued their road trip.
Several months passed and because they were both still coughing, they saw another doctor who ran some tests. They had chest x-rays, MRI’s, CT scans and more blood tests. Margaret’s results showed lowered white blood cells and low-grade inflammation. Tom’s tests showed inflammation, scarring and congestion on his lungs consistent with COPD (congestive obstructive pulmonary disorder) however many years before, Tom smoked cigarettes for about 25yrs.
They were prescribed cortisone tablets to help reduce the inflammation which may have triggered the coughing, but after taking them for two weeks with no changes to their consistent coughing they stopped taking them. They continued their travels, still feeling ok apart from the constant coughing which was sometimes a dry cough, but mostly on the wet productive side (mucus coming up).
It was a year since their initial lung infection when they came to see me. I recommended they first visit a doctor to be re-checked, with similar tests to the previous ones, to determine whether there had been any changes or their conditions had deteriorated.
Their tests showed that Tom’s lungs were a little worse, while Margaret’s white blood cells were still low and her inflammation was a little higher. That doctor suggested more antibiotics and cortisone, but they didn’t want to do that as it didn’t work before, so they came back to see if I could help.
We already discussed their diet at their previous visit but they didn’t want to make any changes until they saw the doctor; but now we needed to see what could be done to support the healing process.
Even though they considered themselves to have a healthy diet, their food and lifestyle choices reflected somewhat on their extended holiday travels. While their diet may have been healthy compared to other ‘nomads’ they met on their travels, there was certainly room for improvement.
Apparently 4pm beer o’clock is common with travellers. This is where they get together in a common area with their preferred alcoholic drink with shared nibbles of foods like cheese, nuts, dips, crackers, lollies, cakes or whatever they felt like that day.
Breakfast for them was usually cereal with milk and sugar, and full milk coffee. Morning tea and afternoon tea were much the same with cake and full milk coffee. Usually they skipped lunch due to the 4pm meeting, then sometimes had a late dinner of salad with meat, chicken or fish.
I spoke about inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods and drinks, and how it is difficult for the body to heal when it doesn’t have the right ingredients to do its job, and particularly how pro-inflammatory foods just keep driving and increasing the inflammation.
I asked them how committed they were to make the necessary changes to get rid of their coughs. They told me they were fed up with constantly coughing and having to explain to others that they weren’t going to pass on an infection. Not to mention that they were worried about developing lung cancer if things didn’t get any better.
One doctor told them that this was possible if things didn’t soon change. One of their new blood tests showed some auto-immune markers that the doctor wanted to ‘keep an eye on’, and although not fully developed it might get worse over time. So not only did they have the threat of lung cancer, but also of an auto-immune disorder as their body was relentlessly trying to break down lung tissue in order to rebuild good tissue.
After our discussion, Margaret and Tom decided that it would be best to rent a house and stay away from the scene of merriment for a while to get their health in order, and then go travelling again when things were better.
The diet I put them on was gluten, dairy, grain and sugar free, as well as cutting out alcohol, coffee and additives of any kind including bacon, ham and smallgoods, which had been a large part of their 4pm munchies. These foods contain all sorts of additives detrimental to the lungs.
The diet was anti-inflammatory and immune supportive. They were encouraged to eat plenty of fish, which Tom loved as he enjoyed fishing, and to temporarily cut out red meat, yet eat foods such as pasture fed chicken and turkey once or twice a week. They also consumed lots of turmeric made into an anti-inflammatory tea.
Initially I prescribed a supplement that was a mix of papain (from green papaya), bromelain (from pineapples) and protease (protein digestive enzymes) as well as a turmeric supplement. We began to restore their gut health with some strong probiotics which was followed by probiotic and prebiotic foods to encourage the growth of the good bacteria.
I also prescribed some magnesium rich foods and supplements to relax the lung muscles and suggested that they eat a lot of green papaya salad to get the papain digestive enzymes to break down fibrotic tissues in their lungs.
After a few weeks, they found the supplements were too expensive, so they committed to continue with the diet I advised. I checked their progress every month and gradually their coughing slowed down. Within three months they only coughed at night and after six months they had no cough at all.
After 12 months in the rented house they went back on the road again and revisited the doctor who organised their first round of tests. He was astounded and said he couldn’t believe their results and felt that he would have been diagnosing something much more sinister by then.
Margaret’s results were completely healthy and Tom’s went from a diagnosis of COPD to mild scarring on the lungs. They both continued their diet so their healing could continue and both felt the extra vitality this had given them.
Better still was how they shared this information whenever they had 4pm gatherings (not beer o’clock for them anymore) with fellow campers. Tom and Margaret brought along healthy snacks and drank mineral water with frozen blueberries, which also ‘rubbed off’ on a few other happy campers and some of them also changed their diet for the better.
Pretty cool aye!