Mucus can be a double-edged sword, as it provides both natural protection to the epithelial lining of the respiratory and intestinal tract but, in excess, it can congest them.
The lining of the intestines and respiratory tract is surprisingly LARGE. It could easily cover a tennis court if completely flattened out!
Lined with mucus-making cells, called mucous membranes, the lining of the intestines and respiratory tract is akin to the three little bears. It cannot be too dry or too wet. To function optimally, it has to be just right.
When the body’s mucous membranes are acutely irritated by stress, pollens, pollutants, toxins or seasonal changes, they can produce either too little or too much mucus. This can affect the health, well-being and the balance of the entire body.
Sometime in mid-August, as the heat of summer accumulates, the earth and most everything in the northern hemisphere begins to dry out. It is common to notice your skin becoming drier, your sinuses becoming temporarily irritated or sensitive, and even a change in your bowel movements may be noticed.
Of course, nature has a solution to the accumulation of summer’s heat and dryness… it’s called winter!
Nature goes from hot and dry in the summer, to cold and dry in the winter. The cold of winter is a welcome reprieve to the heat of summer, but it is the dryness that can potentially accumulate and aggravate the mucous membranes in the fall and winter. In Ayurveda, this is referred to as a vata imbalance.
Vata is made up of the air and ether elements and is, by nature, cold and dry. Vata naturally accumulates in the cold and dry of winter. A vata imbalance is the accumulation of cold and dry environmental factors resulting in an acute aggravation of the mucous membranes. The mucous membranes that line the intestines and respiratory tract are the two most important protective barriers of the body.
At the end of the summer, there is an accumulation of heat, called pitta in Ayurveda. Too much pitta or accumulated heat at the end of the summer can aggravate vata (dryness) in the winter, as both summer and winter can be dry. This can result in the excess production of mucus, called a kapha imbalance or too much phlegm in Ayurveda.
To ensure that these mucous membranes are insulated from the accumulating dryness, nature’s harvest provides cooling fruits and vegetables at the end of the summer to balance pitta (excess heat), as well as warming, lubricating nuts and seeds and grains during the fall and winter to balance vata (excess cold and dryness).
In a perfect world, living in harmony with the seasonal harvest and eating seasonal foods, nature provides a natural protection of the body’s mucous membranes.
However, today, we live in houses with dry heat in the winter. Many of us eat a diet that doesn’t really vary at all throughout the year, and we migrate from a house, office or car that is cooled to 72ﾟ in the summer and heated to 72ﾟ in the winter.
Living our lives predominately indoors disconnects us from nature by insulating us not only from the changing seasonal temperatures, but also from the changing light and dark circadian cycles.
One study showed that the average American experiences only 1-2 hours of sunlight per day in the summer, and much of that is through the window of a car. In winter, outdoor sunlight exposure is actually much less for many of us. (1)
Herbs for Balancing Vata, Pitta and Kapha Mucus-Producing Imbalances
As the seasons change, dry and irritated mucous membranes make reactive mucus to protect against the accumulating heat and dryness of summer, and the dryness of winter.
The production of excess and reactive mucus production in the respiratory and intestinal track can bog down the cilia and villa of these mucous membranes, compromising the absorption of nutrients and natural intestinal detoxification, and congesting the sinuses and upper respiratory tract as we approach winter.
Either dry or excess mucus in either the respiratory or intestinal tract can alter the natural environment that supports healthy and beneficial bacteria. Excess or depleted mucus production can be a breeding ground for undesirable bacteria that compete for the same resources as the trillions of beneficial bacteria required for optimal health and a robust immune system.
Nature not only harvests cooling fruits and vegetables in the summer, and warming and insulating nuts, seeds and grains to insulate and lubricate us in the winter, nature also harvests numerous herbal plants to balance the mucous membranes as well.
Ayurveda’s classic formula for a healthy respiratory tract is a combination of herbs called sitopladi churna, which consists of cane sugar, a type of bamboo called banslochan (Bambusa arundinacea), long pepper or pippali fruit (Piper longum), cardamom seed (Elettaria cardamomum) and cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia).
To make this formula beneficial for balancing either a vata or kapha respiratory tract, at LifeSpa, we combine this traditional formula with turmeric, and an Ayurvedic bio-enhancing formula called trikatu, which combines ginger, long pepper and black pepper. At LifeSpa, we call this formula Mucus Destroyer.
Sitopladi has properties that allow for the natural expectoration of mucus. It balances both kapha (phlegm), vata (dryness) and the excess heat of pitta (acute irritation and dryness) in the chest, throat and respiratory tract. (2)
Sitopladi has been shown to support a healthy antioxidant effect (3) and boost immunity in the respiratory tract. (4)
Trikatu is a combination of ginger, long pepper and black pepper. In this formulation, these pungent agents help to balance mucus production, while boosting natural respiratory defenses. These pungent herbs act as bio-availability enhancers or bio-enhancers, as they drive the absorption and boost the effectiveness of the other herbs in the formula. (5,7)
This bio-enhancing effect is called “yogavahi” in Ayurveda. Numerous herbs in Ayurveda were classified as yogavahi and are used as drivers or bio-enhancers in many Ayurvedic formulas. (5)
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a pungent root that is well-documented to support a healthy immune system, the external and internal skin (that lines the intestinal and respiratory tracts), healthy clear respiration and the natural expectoration of healthy lungs. (6)
Turmeric also supports a healthy environment of mucous membranes that support the proliferation of beneficial bacteria, which compete with undesirable bacteria for growing space in both the respiratory and intestinal tracts. (6)