Ok, it’s not really smoke on the water, it’s smoke in the air. I walked out of my house yesterday and smelled what I thought was a goofy neighbor firing up the grill. Nope. Bastrop is on fire. Again. Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. As fires spread and start eating houses and barns more man-made materials begins to billow up into the smoke as well. These particulates and gases can cause inflammation in the eyes, irritates respiratory tracts, and makes any pre-existing conditions such as allergies, asthma, and COPD worse.

Within 15 minutes of smelling the smoke the phone calls for breathing support started pouring in. Even though many of the patients who were calling are on herbs to treat allergies and have been doing well on the formulas, the smoke pushed most of them back into varying levels of respiratory distress.

What can be done for these folks? I’m seeing good results treating the lungs as if I was treating someone who just stopped smoking: tonifying and moistening lungs, encouraging lung detoxification, and soothing damaged tissues. I’m encouraging a combination approach with do-able modifications to lifestyle and diet in addition to acupuncture and herbal medicine. Here are some suggestions that could help your patients too.

  1. Acupuncture
    In additional to your typical Lung problem go-to points, such as Lu 9, Li 5, Ren 17, and PC 6, add the NADA protocol points of Lung, Kidney, and Liver. Ren 26 will open the orifices of the body and is often used to restore consciousness, but I find it also helps open the nose, throat, and chest.

    Also consider Master Tung’s Four Horses points on the thigh in combination with other points for asthma and wheezing. Susan Johnson has an excellent article on Four Horses, so I won’t re-iterate what she says so well. Read it here.


  3. Herbs
    Cat's TCM Notes - Smoke inhalation is nearly inevitable when wildfires are burning. Go here to find out how to treat it. Stop smoking formulas such as Shen Qi Jie Yan Ling, a patent for smokers, tonifies Qi, clears heat, and opens the orifices. Ingredients for this formula are hong hua, ren shen, huang qi, bai zhu, xuan shen, ku shen, huang qin, bing pian, chuan jiao, chuan bei mu, and shan zhu yu. This is a decent solution since smoke particulates can dry and warm the lungs too much, but you could add these herbs for better effect. Please note that most of these could be added to the diet in addition to the patent above.
    1. Sang ye and sang bai pi.
      These herbs cool and moisten the lungs, which counters the hot and dry nature of smoke particulates. Sang ye also has a positive effect on irritated eyes. Sang bai pi is colder than sang ye and assists in calming wheezing and cough for asthmatics.
    2. Bai he nourishes lung yin and also calms the heart, which can be beneficial to people who were traumatized by past fires in Bastrop. Bai he, the bulb of the lily, can also be cooked up in soups as a nutritional therapy.
    3. Yu zhu is solomon’s seal root. You can use it to nourish lung yin even during an active lung infection. It calms dry throats and helps with coughing and irritability. If you want to use it as a nutritional therapy, cook it up into a bone broth.
    4. Mai men dong moistens the lung, clears deficient heat, and eliminates irritability. I use it for “the drys” – dry cough, dry tongue, dry mouth – and also for a dry cough with blood streaks in the sputum. You can combine it with goji berries and make a decoction.”Decoction” is not a word we use in Chinese herbs a lot, even though that’s basically how you prepare raw herbs most of the time. Start with cool, filtered water. Use about 1/4 oz of dried herbs per cup of water (or about an ounce per quart. Bring the water to a boil then add the herbs. Take the water down to a very very low simmer and cook the herbs about 20 minutes. Take the simmering herbs off of the heat, strain off the liquid, cool a bit and drink.
    5. If you want to go a more Western herbal route, check out New Chapter’s LifeShield line. Specific products that are working well for both me and for several patients are the LifeShield Breathe, Cordyceps, and Reishi products. You can get these at a lot of health food stores, Whole Foods, Sprouts, etc., and if you don’t have access to those, there’s always online sources such as Amazon. Blessed Herbs also makes a formula called Lung Rejuvenator that’s supposed to be awesome, but I don’t have direct experience with it.


  4. Modify diet
    Let’s start with what to add to the diet. Grapes, almonds, water chestnuts, an chlorophyllic foods such as dark leafy greens like spinach are all excellent to help clear and strengthen lung function. Spirulina and chlorella fall into the chlorophyl family also. Apricots and pears also have a great cleansing and healing effect on the lung tissues.Omit foods that cause more mucus and inflammation. This includes a lot of cow products. Cow dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurts are obvious, but less obvious is feed lot beef. This contains a lot of hormones and chemicals and trans fats that increase systemic inflammation and produce more mucus. As a matter of fact, all trans fats will do this, so it’s good to leave those out too. That includes processed butter substitutes such as margarine and lards. White flour will gum up the system and sugars (especially white refined sugars) will cause more moisture and inflammatory response as well. Reduce coffee as well, as this creates more damp and heat in the body.

  6. Drink more water
    Ok, let’s mitigate this. If you drink a ton of water it’s likely you’ll just pee it out. If the lung is moist it will help the body hold on to needed moisture better, so you basically need to combine this with herbs and nutritional therapy. That said, you need sufficient water intake for your body’s “plumbing system” to thin the mucus and flush away toxins. Without sufficient water intake the mucus can thicken into phlegm that is too sticky to be easily expelled.

  8. Neti pot!
    The neti pot is your friend. It might not be the magic bullet that fixes everything, but it washes pollens, smoke particulates, and other things that aren’t supposed to lodge in your sinus cavities out and down the drain. Have your patients use a neti pot at the end of their day to wash out anything that might have collected in the nasal passages while they were outside.

  10. Qigong
    Remember the Six Healing Sounds Qigong? Use the Lung sound to tonify lung deficiency and to help expel excesses such as smoke particles, heat, and dryness.

  12. Get some house plants
    Some types of house plants are exceptional at cleansing the air in your indoor space. A brief list of plants that will do this for you:

    1. English ivy (Hedera helix)
    2. Spider plant (Chlorphytum comosum)
    3. Golden pothos (Epipemnum aureum)
    4. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum Mauna Loa)
    5. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
    6. Bamboo or reed palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
    7. Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
    8. Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens oxycardium)
    9. Selloum philodendron (Philodendrum selloum)
    10. Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendrum domesticum)
    11. Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
    12. Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragrans Massangeana)
    13. Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis Janet Craig)
    14. Warneck dracaena (Dreacaena dermenisis Waneckii)
    15. Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)
  13. Wear a dust mask
    Cat's TCM Notes - N95 allergy zone mask is better than the inexpensive work and yard masks you get at home stores and also outperform surgical dust masks. If your patients must be outside working or exercising and they are lung compromised, ask them to wear a dust mask, but not just any dust mask. Most are designed to filter out bigger particles such as sawdust. Smoke particles are much smaller. N95 Respirator masks worn properly will keep out far more of these particles. Even these aren’t bullet proof, but should help.

Got suggestions I haven’t thought of yet? I’d love to hear about them. Use the comment section below to weigh in!


Smoke on the Water — 1 Comment

  1. Awesome info and very informative. I never use Ren 26 but might try is out on a couple of patients I see in the intern clinic.Thanks for sharing. Y