Breath is Life: a brief overview of the Lungs

Breath is life. Our lungs are an essential organ that helps to keep us alive by inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. In Chinese Medicine, similarly to all the organs that I have written about, the Lungs have a more global role than just inhaling and exhaling. Read further to learn more about the global functions of the Lungs, and symptoms and causes of Lung weakness.

What are the Lung's roles and responsibilities?

The Lungs are responsible for more than just inspiration and expiration of air:

  • Governs our immune system by circulating Wei Qi

  • Regulates sweating and immune system by opening and closing the pores

  • Governs the hair and skin

  • Converts the air we breathe into expendable energy (Qi)

  • Moistens the skin by circulating Body Fluids

  • Opens to the nose and control the voice

The Lungs and the Immune System

Catching colds was commonly thought to be a result of being exposed to cold air or wind. Thanks to modern medical research, we now know that the common cold is due to the spreading of bacterial or viral infections. But you're probably thinking, how did this ill-conceived notion of catching a cold start?

As mentioned above, the Lungs are responsible for the opening and closing of pores on the skin. This mechanism acts as a gate, where shutting it keeps thieves outside and opening it allows for unwanted guests to leave. When we get exhausted or stressed, this "gate" malfunctions and remains open, allowing thieves and potential threats to invade, and eventually get sick with a cold. Hence, being exposed to the cold could make you run down with one.

Using this "open and closed pore" theory, Chinese medicine uses specific herbs to help open up our pores and sweat out the pathogens.

Breath is life

Since the Lungs transform inhaled air into Qi, they have an important influence on the functional activities of the entire body. When our Lung Qi is strong, breathing rate and depth are normal and the body has sufficient energy. Weak Lung Qi, on the other hand, deprives the other organs of energy, leading to shortness of breath, weak voice, and general fatigue.

The Lungs and Body Fluids

The Lungs moves Qi and Body Fluids downwards to the lower portion of the body. When this descending action is impaired and normal qi flow is disrupted, coughing and shortness of breath may occur. Fluids can also collect in the upper body, resulting in oedema (severe water retention) and difficulty in urination.

An example of this motion is drinking straw and water. When you dip the straw into the water, the straw fills with water, which then flows out of the straw when you lift the straw out of the water. However, if you place a finger over the end of the straw before you lift it out of the water, the water remains in the straw until you lift your finger. Blocking the straw is similar to the blockage of downward water movement that results from impairment in Lung function.

Lungs, Nose and Throat

The Lungs open to the nose and control the voice. When Lung Qi is healthy, the sense of smell is acute, the nasal passages remain open, and the voice is strong. When Lung Qi becomes weak, the person may experience symptoms of nasal congestion, excessive mucus, an impaired sense of smell, and a weak or hoarse voice.

What are the main causes of Lung weakness?

There are various factors that can contribute to the weakness of the lungs. Here are some examples of these factors:

Emotional - Grief and Sadness

This unpleasant but necessary emotion is what makes us human and helps us to process the loss of a loved one or broken relationship. However, this mechanism can become pathological when we try to stifle or avoid grieving, or when grief consumes us. Either pathway takes a massive toll on our body, and can potentially cause issues within our bodies and our relationships with others. If you have experienced loss, please consider seeing a clinical psychologist to help you overcome this difficult time.

Diet - Excessive dairy, greasy or alcohol intake

These foods are known to induce Dampness, which is a problematic pathological condition. If you find you have issues with chesty mucus, or when you have a cough produces lots of phlegm, then following a Damp-reducing diet will benefit you.

Lifestyle - poor posture

Poor posture, especially stooping or hunching over a desk for long hours. This postural issue constricts breathing and impacts Lung efficiency.

Pathogenic - Unresolved Upper Respiratory Tract Infections or colds

A common example of this is when people experience prolonged coughing long after they contracted the common cold.

Environmental - living in a dry environment

The Lungs thrive well in moist conditions, so drying out the Lungs can cause it to be weakened. Remember, dry environments doesn't necessarily mean living in the Saharan desert - dryness also occurs when leaving the air con on all day and night.

Symptoms of Lung Qi deficiency

The following is a list of symptoms that are associated with Lung Qi deficiency:

  • Catching colds frequently

  • Abnormal sweating

  • Shortness of breath

  • Asthma

  • Weak voice

  • General fatigue

  • Oedema

  • Difficulty urinating

  • Nasal congestion

  • Excessive mucus production

  • Impaired sense of smell

  • Weak or hoarse voice

How to strengthen and maintain health in the Lungs

In order to strengthen your Lungs, you will need to identify what the contributing factors are, which have been described above. Here are a list of recommendations I have provided to my patients in the past who have issues with Lung weakness:

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* Please be mindful that this article is to be used as an informative guide only and is not intended as medical advice