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Breathe free: 7 Ayurvedic tips to keep lungs healthy, reverse the effects of air pollution

India is home to 18 per cent of the world’s population and according to the recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Survey, it has the highest incidence of both acute and chronic respiratory disorders. The increasing perils of widespread pollution have led to people experiencing health hazards from air pollution such as respiratory or breathing difficulties. Yet, there are many things individuals can do to help reverse the harmful effects of air pollution. Ayurveda being the science of life seems to provide solutions for every problem of life – that includes overcoming the harmful impacts of pollutants.

Children and the elderly population are at a higher risk as they are more vulnerable. While individuals with lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema (a lung condition that causes shortness of breath) and COPD suffer more due to air pollution, it is important for healthy people to stay safe as well.

Who is at risk for pollution-related ailments?

Air pollution can affect people across age groups and gender, including those who are healthy. The risk factors for respiratory disorders arising out of air pollution include – tobacco smoking, indoor pollution (caused by toxic products, inadequate ventilation, high temperature and humidity), outdoor pollution, allergens and occupational risks such as ambient pollution. Individuals suffering from heart disease, coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure are at high risk alongside those with lung diseases. Apart from this, pregnant women, outdoor workers, children who spend a lot of time playing out, the geriatric population and athletes who exercise outdoors are also vulnerable, said Dr Jyoti Kumbar, Medical Superintendent, Medanta AyurVAID, Medanta, The Medicity. 

Harmful effects of air pollution

The warning signs depend on the individual’s overall health, pollutant type, and concentration and the duration of exposure to polluted air. High air pollution levels can cause health problems with long-term implications like aggravated cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, additional stress on the lungs and heart, damaged cells in the respiratory system, accelerated ageing of the lungs along with loss of lung capacity and a shorter lifespan.

Common ailments and problems caused by pollution

Lung disease and respiratory problems: Conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be caused or triggered by rising levels of air pollution. In several Indian metro cities, air pollution is the primary trigger for breathing ailments in children and the elderly.

Lung cancer: While lung cancer is primarily associated with those who smoke excessively, findings by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information, USA), suggest that indoor air pollution can also be carcinogenic. Formaldehyde used to clean the furniture and certain home equipments can cause poisoning, and prolonged exposure with higher concentration can be carcinogenic.

Cardiovascular problems: Breathing in polluted air for long periods can increase the risk of heart diseases. Harmful air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone can get mixed in the bloodstream causing cardiovascular disorders. Particulate matter is another pollutant that severely impacts the nervous system and cardiovascular activity.

Weak immunity in newborns: Indoor air pollution can also have adverse effects on the health of women during pregnancy. The unborn child can suffer from a weaker immune system and may have a lung disorder upon birth. Newly born children also get affected by air pollution as they breathe in more air than adults during their formative years.

Shortened lifespan: Air pollution has an impact on overall health and wellness. Multiple studies point out that the lifespan of a person living in polluted cities is about three years less as compared to a person living in a cleaner rural or urban environment.

Role of Ayurveda in combating air pollution-related disorders

Inhalation of toxic pollutants leads to an imbalance in the three fundamental energies or principles which govern the function of our bodies. This causes numerous respiratory disorders and can also affect heart health. According to Dr Jyoti Kumbar, the following Ayurvedic treatments can help reverse the effects of air pollution:

  1. Nasya Karma: This therapy includes the installation of medicated drops through the nostrils which prevents allergies caused by air pollutants. It should be done daily under the supervision and must be taken in small doses during bedtime and post waking up in the morning. This helps in flushing out pollutants from the nasal cavity and prevents the pollutants from crossing the nasal pathway. Instilling drops of almond oil or cow’s ghee can also help.
  2. Gandusha Karma/Oil pulling: Healthy humans may breathe through their nose, their mouth or both.  The nose has a filtering mechanism in preventing pollutants from entering the body. But for the mouth breathers, oil pulling therapy provides the barrier to prevent the entry of pollutants through the mouth. The process involves placing medicated oil into the mouth for 10-15 minutes and then spitting it out. It cleans the harmful bacteria and strengthens the mucous lining of the mouth to fight various allergens present in the air.
  3. Breathing exercises: Breathing techniques like pranayama, kapalbhati etc, can be of significant help in cleansing the airway and combating the ill effects of pollution.
  4. Abhayanga/Massage: It helps in improving blood circulation and getting rid of toxins that have entered the bloodstream by various means like inhalation or skin. Regular Abhyanga with sesame oil or other medicated oils infused with herbs increase the body’s immunity and helps keep the person energised.
  5. Swedana/Fomentation: This is a procedure to induce sweating. The sweating caused by boiling medicinal herbs helps to liquefy and melt the adherent doshas (toxins) and expel them in an efficient manner, thus removing pollutants from our body. Facial steam can also be taken by adding eucalyptus oil, basil oil, tea tree oil, and carom seeds to cleanse and strengthen the nasal barrier for pollutants.
  6. Dhawana: Washing the skin and bathing with medicated water helps in flushing out the pollutants stuck to the skin and mucous membrane.
  7. Diet and herbs: One must consume freshly prepared warm food. Ingredients like ginger and carom seeds can be included in the diet. Tulsi, Pippali, Triphala etc, can be consumed on a regular basis to strengthen the respiratory and immune system.

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