Natural Treatments for Cough
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
COUGHING IS YOUR BODY’S NATURAL RESPONSE to foreign substances in the airways or the throat. It is triggered by the nervous system, which produces a spasm of the muscles in the chest, pushing the air out of the lungs at an incredible speed (measured at 300 miles per hour). Anything from a common cold to respiratory infections, chronic obstructive disorders, and smoking can cause a cough. Most of the time when the underlying condition is removed, coughing resolves itself. In some chronic cases, prolonged coughing can strain the chest muscles, causing pain, injuring the rib cage, or even causing spontaneous pneumothorax, a condition in which a portion of the tissue separating the lungs collapses.
In Chinese medicine, a cough, like nausea and vomiting, is considered a rebellious upsurge of energy. It’s often a result of pathogens in the lungs, and sometimes it can be due to emotional turmoil aggravating the liver-gallbladder network, whose energy surges upward and injures the lungs. Most of the cough cases I treat are the result of common colds, allergies, or respiratory infections. As I mentioned in the bronchitis section, many are also due to acid reflux. I see the best results when I use acupuncture and cupping therapies to quickly relieve the cough, followed by fast acting herbal therapy to soothe the bronchial tubes, redirect the energy downward, open the lungs to promote respiration, and remove the underlying condition.
Mucus or phlegm is often a culprit in a chronic cough. In Chinese medicine, the saying “The spleen creates dampness and mucus and the lungs are the storehouse” explains how diet and digestive weakness cause a buildup of dampness and phlegm that accumulates in the lungs, leading to a rebellion of the lung energy. In many cases, reducing and clearing out the mucus will ease the cough. I have worked with many pulmonary specialists over the years, and I tell my patients that if a cough persists beyond a month without improvement, they should immediately see a lung specialist for further examination.
Follow the simple recommendations below to help with your cough.
DIET FOR COUGH
For dietary advice for a cough associated with a common cold, refer to the section on common colds.
I recommend a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, low in fat, and moderate in protein. Eat green vegetables, cabbage (both green and red), celery, daikon radish, garlic, green beans, button mushrooms, mustard greens, onions, leeks, parsnips, seaweed, turnips, water chestnuts, watercress, apples, bananas, apricots, figs, grapefruits, mulberries, oranges, pear apples, persimmons, almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, olives, and honey.
Eliminate foods that promote mucus, including all dairy products (especially ice cream), cold and raw foods, sweet foods containing simple processed sugars, processed flour, and soft drinks.
HOME REMEDIES FOR COUGH
For a dry cough, finely chop 2 cups each of green and red cabbage, add 1 sliced pear apple (Asian pear), and boil in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes. Strain, and drink this broth 3 times a day.
For a dry cough with thick yellow phlegm that is difficult to expectorate, juice 1 daikon radish and 1/2 cup water chestnuts. Warm the juice and drink with 1 teaspoon honey. Drink 3 cups a day until the mucus returns to a clear color and the cough subsides.
For a chronic cough with excess mucus, boil 20 grapefruit seeds, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, and 1 teaspoon parsnip seeds in 1 1/2 cups water for 10 minutes. Strain. Add 1 teaspoon honey and drink 3 times a day. Take until the cough subsides.
For a cough with excess mucus, boil 2 oranges, including the peels, in 4 cups of water for 30 minutes. Drink 3 cups daily and eat the oranges.
For all kinds of coughs, boil a pot of water and turn off the stove. Add 10 drops of Tonic Oil (available at www.askdrmao.com), which consists of oils of camphor, peppermint, eucalyptus, fennel, and wintergreen. Inhale the fumes deeply for 10 minutes, covering your head and the pot with a towel. This is traditionally used for opening passageways and relieving joint pain.
DAILY VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR COUGH
Supplementing with vitamins C (1,000 milligrams), E (800 IU), and B complex, bromelain (450 milligrams), garlic (900 milligrams), zinc (50 milligrams), and iron (25 milligrams) can help treat cough.
Taking MSM (1,000 milligrams) and pycnogenol (200 milligrams), a bioflavonoid found in grape seeds, can help protect the lungs and prevent infections.
Taking quercetin (250 milligrams) is useful for its antihistamine properties in allergic bronchitis.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR COUGH
Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to www.askdrmao.com.
Linden, marshmallow, and peppermint are traditionally used to suppress cough.
Lily bulb, apricot kernel, stemona root, fritillaria, mulberry, Chinese basil, mustard seed, daikon seed, ginger, and schizandra berry are among the many herbs used in Chinese medicine to calm coughs and ventilate the lungs.
For chronic bronchitis accompanied by kidney weakness, I recommend tonic herbs such as ginkgo seed, goji berry, comus berry, astragalus, and ginseng.
EXERCISE FOR COUGH
Don’t exercise strenuously during acute stages of coughing bouts, as exercise can worsen the condition. Calm and restful walks in fresh air can help. During remission, moderate physical exercise is appropriate.
I recommend daily qi gong exercises to strengthen the body, open the lungs, and redirect the flow of qi downward.
Eight Treasures Qi Gong is a wonderful set of qi gong movements that, when performed daily for 30 minutes, can be of great benefit to the mind and body. The fifth movement of the practice, called Water and Fire Meet, is targeted to bring the cooling and calming energy of the kidneys to the chest, to redirect the qi downward, and to calm a cough.
The Eight Treasures Qi Gong exercises can be of great benefit to the mind and body, when performed daily for 30 minutes. In particular, the fifth movement of the practice, called Water and Fire Meet, is targeted to bring the cooling energy of the kidneys to the chest, redirect the qi downward, and calm a cough.
SELF ACUPRESSURE FOR COUGH
Locate the acupoint Cubit Marsh (LU-5) by bending your right arm at the elbow and finding the point in the elbow crease, on the outer side of the large tendon in the middle of the crease. Apply moderate pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left arm.
Locate the acupoint Upward Thrust (REN-22), on the chest, level with the clavicle and shoulders, in the depression at the center of the sternum just below the V of the neck. Apply steady pressure with your index fingers until you feel soreness. Hold for 3 minutes.
These points are used to soothe breathing, redirect lung energy downward, and stop cough.
COUGH: WHAT TO AVOID
Exposure to airborne irritants, which can aggravate a cough.
Alcohol, smoking, and caffeine, stimulants that can worsen the condition.
Exposure to cold weather, which can trigger bronchial constriction and worsen a cough.
Stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil, which can aggravate a cough.