The word ‘detox’ is a bit of a concerning one when it comes to health and wellness. While we see the term plastered on a huge range of products, there is little consensus as to what it actually means. The body is in fact perfectly capable of removing all the ‘toxins’ it needs to on its own and is in a constant progress of cleansing and regeneration.
Nevertheless, while the term might not always be appropriate, the general idea of trying to clean out the lungs is a good one. And this is especially true if you’re a smoker, if you’re someone who has inhaled a lot of second hand smoke or if you’re a city dweller. Smoke damage can remain in the lungs for years after you quit or remove yourself from that situation and other pollutants may act similarly.
So the question is: how do you reverse some of that damage and get back the healthy, clean set of lungs that you were born with? Let’s take a look at some options…
Clean Your Air
A good place to start would be to reduce the amount of toxins you’re currently breathing in. Most of us inhale a lot of toxins simply by moving around our own homes. Examples of sources include cleansers, detergents, bleaches, molds and even some ‘air fresheners’. Try to reduce anything that contains a lot of chemicals, keep your home clean and open the windows to circulate air. That said, if you live near a busy road, then you might want to avoid opening the windows that lead directly out onto it.
It’s also a good idea to vacuum your carpet regularly and to clean your furniture. Fabrics can otherwise hold onto a range of particles and toxins that might cause damage to your lungs.
The best case scenario really would be to try moving to somewhere with cleaner air – ideally out of the city and towards the coast. This isn’t always going to be possible however, so your second best bet is to just try and avoid as many pollutants and irritants in the air around your home.
By avoiding these chemicals and toxins you can consider yourself to be ‘detoxing’ from harmful agents in the air and thereby you are able to give your lungs the break they need in order to heal.
There’s no need to go overboard though by throwing out all of your current hair products and things containing trace metals as some sites recommend. It’s actually impossible to completely avoid all irritants and the body should have no trouble removing tiny quantities of unnatural materials.
Again, it’s very important to be wary of some of the ‘advice’ you’ll find online. Sitting in an infrared sauna isn’t going to improve your lungs (there is very little evidence supporting the benefits of infrared saunas) and antibacterial/antifungal herbs have very little to do with your lungs. In fact, eating any kind of ‘lung cleansing food’ or ‘lung cleansing herb’ is unlikely to be particularly useful as it won’t actually reach the lungs.
That said, there are some techniques that may help you to breathe easy (literally). One option may be to try inhaling steam. Fill a bowl full of hot water, hang your head over the top, and drape a towel over to trap yourself in with the steam. This can help to combat some of the effects of emphysema – where the alveoli (air sacks in the lungs that absorb oxygen) become damaged. Steam may help to reduce inflammation in the lungs and at the very least it can break up phlegm and provide some soothing comfort.
This can provide a ‘DIY’ approach to the steam treatment being tested in clinical trials that uses vapor blasts via tubes.
Inhaling salt may also be useful for combating lung damage. Studies have shown that salt pipes can be somewhat useful for treating lung damage caused by COPD (1) and you can mimic this by adding a little salt to your bowl before inhaling to create a saline solution. You could also visit a salt room, or just try taking a stroll along the beach.
Committing to a program of regular steam inhalation can be more disruptive and difficult than you might imagine though and any benefits are likely to be small. Use this method three times a week, only if you are struggling with lung damage.
More useful than trying to ‘detox’ your lungs is simply to focus on strengthening your lungs, improving capacity and increasing your breathing technique. Any form of cardiovascular/aerobic exercise will naturally improve your VO2 max, helping you to extract more oxygen from the air around you as you breathe.
Likewise, you can also improve your breathing technique and there are many places you can learn this in a guided manner. Consider taking up yoga or meditation for instance for guidance on correct breathing, or look for ‘belly breathing’. Often our tendency to inflate the tops of our lungs first, rather than emptying out our abdominal cavity, results us taking shallower breaths and feeling short of air as a result.
Using breathing exercises can not only help you to get more air from your lungs but can also help to ‘re-inflate’ collapsed lungs and reverse some types of damage.