Every day, quietly and rhythmically, awake or asleep, without thought, you breath in and out about 20,000 times. You process around 4,000 gallons of air, depending on how big you are and how active. That’s about 7.3 million breaths between birthdays, or 550 million or so over the course of a lifetime.
When a person inhales, oxygen enters their lungs and travels to the organs. When they exhale, carbon dioxide leaves the body. A normal respiratory rate plays a critical role in keeping the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide even in the body.
Altogether the lungs weigh about 2.4 pounds. They push up as high as your neck and bottom out sitting on the diaphragm, just below your breastbone. The diaphragm pulls down on the lungs and helps them to work more powerfully, enabling more oxygen to get into our muscles and to our brains.
Along with the diaphragm’s help, the slight difference in air pressure between the outside world and the space around your lungs, the pleural cavity, keeps the lungs inflated. Air pressure in the chest is less than atmospheric pressure. If air gets into the chest, because of a puncture wound, the differential vanishes and the lungs collapse to a third of their normal size.
The lungs are very good at cleaning. According to one estimate, the average urban dweller inhales around twenty billion foreign particles every day – dust, industrial pollutants, pollen, fungal spores, wildfire smoke, etc..
If a particle is big or especially irritating, you will probably cough or sneeze it straight back out. If it is too small to provoke an immediate response, it will be trapped in the mucus that lines your nasal passages or caught by the bronchi, or tubules, in your lungs.
These tiny airways in your lungs are lined with millions and millions of hairlike cilia that act like paddles which beat at a rate of sixteen times a second. They swat the foreign object back into the throat, where it is diverted to the stomach and dissolved by hydrochloric acid. Despite all this, occasionally some pathogens get through and make you sick. Covid is a good example of an airborne pathogen that gets through.
Products that claim they can detoxify, clean, or clear your lungs can be made from herbal supplements, vitamins, essential oils, or antioxidants. These lung cleansers may come as pills, vitamins, teas, oils, or be inhaled.
None of these products are FDA-approved, and neither the American Lung Association (ALA), National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognize any supplements, herbs, oils, or vitamins for lung cleansing.
Lung cleansing products claim to treat inflammation, reduce cough, reduce congestion, and even help you stop smoking or help to cleanse your lungs after you stop smoking. According to the website LungSupportSupplements.com, licorice, lobelia, and grindelia are key herbs used in supplements. Other herbal ingredients may include wild cherry bark, turmeric, marshmallow root, mullein leaf, and many others.
The ALA says the claims of lung detox or cleansing products are unproven and some products may be dangerous. For example, vaping or inhaling essential oils can be damaging to your lungs. Many of these products have ingredients not stated on the label, and they may have side effects or interfere with the medications you take.
Antioxidants are the other common ingredient in lung detox products, especially the antioxidant vitamin D. Antioxidants have been studied much more than herbal supplements. These substances are abundant in fruits and vegetables and they may help your immune system deal with inflammation and infection, or reduce your risk of inflammatory diseases.
The best thing about your lungs is that they are very good at cleaning themselves. Your lungs will naturally repair themselves and move mucous and toxins up into your airway where you can cough them out. Studies show that even the lungs of heavy smokers will look the same as the lungs of nonsmokers after 20 years of not smoking.
For best lung health, the American Lung Association recommends:
- Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke – Cigarette smoking is the major cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Cigarette smoke can narrow the air passages and make breathing more difficult. It causes chronic inflammation, or swelling in the lung, which can lead to chronic bronchitis. Over time cigarette smoke destroys lung tissue and may trigger changes that grow into cancer. If you smoke, it’s never too late to quit.
- Not vaping
- Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables for antioxidants
- Getting regular aerobic exercise – Whether you are young or old, slender or large, able-bodied or living with a chronic illness or disability, being physically active can help keep your lungs healthy.
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding outdoor and indoor air pollutants – Secondhand smoke, chemicals in the home and workplace, and radon all can cause or worsen lung disease. Make your home and car smokefree. Test your home for radon. Avoid exercising outdoors on bad air days. And talk to your healthcare provider if you are worried that something in your home, school or work may be making you sick.
- Prevent Infection – A cold or other respiratory infection like Covid can sometimes become very serious. There are several things you can do to protect yourself:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Avoids crowds.
- Good oral hygiene can protect you from the germs in your mouth leading to infections. Brush your teeth at least twice daily and see your dentist at least every six months.
- Get Covid vaccinations when they are available.
- If you get sick, protect the people around you, including your loved ones, by keeping your distance. Stay home from work or school until you’re feeling better.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), air pollution can be dangerous to everyone at very high levels. If you have a lung disease, even lower levels can be dangerous. You can check your local air quality at this EPA website.
Indoor air pollution from sources like cooking, cleaning, secondhand smoke, and aerosol spray chemicals can also damage your lungs. The EPA recommends using a portable air purifier or placing an air filter in your furnace, central heating, or and air-conditioning system. ALA adds using a high-quality vacuum cleaner frequently in your home.
You can protect your lungs naturally, and you don’t have to pay for a lung cleansing or lung detox product. Your lungs will do a fine job of cleaning themselves, as long as you follow the ALA tips for lung health.
Licorice root, which is considered one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies, comes from the root of the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Licorice root is cultivated throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It is used as a flavoring in candy and food, beverages, and tobacco products.
Licorice root has a long history of use going back to ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. It was used traditionally for treating a variety of conditions, including lung, liver, circulatory, and kidney diseases.
Licorice gargles or lozenges have been used to try to prevent or reduce the sore throat that sometimes occurs after surgery. Licorice is also an ingredient in some products for topical use. Many people use licorice root to treat ailments like heartburn, acid reflux, hot flashes, coughs, and bacterial and viral infections. It’s regularly available as a capsule or liquid supplement. Licorice tea is said to soothe sore throats, while topical gels are claimed to treat skin conditions like acne or eczema.
Surprisingly, many licorice candies are flavored not with licorice root but with anise oil, an essential oil from the anise plant (Pimpinella anisum) that has a similar taste.
While it contains hundreds of plant compounds, licorice root’s primary active compound is glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin is responsible for the root’s sweet taste, as well as its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
Glycyrrhizin is also linked to many of the adverse effects of licorice root. As a result, some products use deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), which has had the glycyrrhizin removed.
In a 30-day study in 50 adults with indigestion, taking a 75-mg licorice capsule twice daily resulted in significant improvements in symptoms, compared with a placebo. Licorice root extract may also alleviate symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), including acid reflux and heartburn.
In an 8-week study in 58 adults with GERD, a low dose of glycyrrhetinic acid in combination with standard treatment resulted in significant improvements in symptoms. Another study in 58 adults with GERD noted that the daily use of licorice root was more effective at reducing symptoms over a 2-year period than commonly used antacids.
A 2016 study of 120 people in Iran found that licorice root, added to standard triple antibiotic therapy, eliminated H. pylori 83.3% of the time. In a group that received antibiotic therapy plus placebo, treatment was successful in just 62.5% of cases.
Lab tests suggest that licorice root may offer benefits in treating some fungal infections, like Candida albicans, and other hard-to-treat bacterial infections like Staphylococcus aureus. Some past studies found that licorice root acted as an anti-inflammatory agent that speeds up the healing of canker sores.
Some scientists believe that the antioxidant effects of licorice may help to lower the risk of certain cancers, primarily colorectal cancer. While the bulk of research has been limited to animal or test-tube studies, some results have been promising. That includes a study in mice that found licorice root may offer possible benefits in preventing tumors related to colitis.
Due to its content of numerous plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, licorice root extract has been studied for its slowing or preventing cell growth in skin, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
Licorice root extract may help treat very painful mouth sores that people with cancer sometimes experience as a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation.
Licorice root may help ease the pain of functional dyspepsia (FD). This is a disorder marked by bouts of upper abdominal discomfort. In one study, 50 people in India were given either a placebo or a product based on licorice root extract at a dose of 75 milligrams (mg) twice a day. The group who took the licorice reported greater relief of their symptoms than participants in the control group.
Licorice root has been studied in women with menstrual cramps due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It also is believed to help relieve many of the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes. Licorice contains phytoestrogens. These are plant-based compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. In one case, a 2012 study looked at 90 women with hot flashes. Authors reported that a daily, 330-milligram dose of licorice root gave some modest relief, compared to a placebo. Once treatment stopped, the symptoms returned.
Licorice root may help protect against bacteria that can lead to cavities. A 3-week study gave 66 preschool-aged kids sugar-free lollipops containing 15 mg of licorice root twice per day during the school week. Consuming the lollipops significantly reduced the number of Streptococcus mutans bacteria, which are the main cause of cavities.
Licorice can interact with a number of drugs. Interactions include lowering the effectiveness or making the side effects worse. Check with you doctor if you are on any of the follow medications before you add licorice root to your diet:
- Heart arrhythmia drugs like Lanoxin (digoxin)
- High blood pressure drugs like Cozaar (losartan)
- Blood thinners like Coumadin (warfarin)
- Estrogen-based contraceptives
- Celebrex (celecoxib), and Voltaren (diclofenac)
- Cholesterol drugs like Lescol (fluvastatin)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen)
- Diuretics like Lasix (furosemide)
When taken as a supplement or tea, licorice root is considered safe. It is tolerated well in adults.
How to Buy
Licorice root products come in many forms available in most health food stores or online. These forms may include:
- Chewable tablets
There are no universal guidelines for the proper use of licorice root. Doses of 5 to 15 grams a day are considered safe for short-term use.
Licorice teabags can be found at many grocery stores. Some are mixed with black, green, or rooibos tea.
If you buy dried licorice root, choose a product that has been certified organic whenever possible. Licorice root is classified as a dietary supplement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For this reason, licorice root products are not required to undergo the rigorous testing that pharmaceutical drugs do.
Only buy supplements that state the amount of glycyrrhizin on the product label. Look for licorice products that contain no more than 10% glycyrrhizin, or advertised as DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). As a general rule, you should never exceed the recommended dosage on the product label. You also should not take licorice supplements for more than three to six weeks.
The quality can vary widely from one brand to the next. To ensure quality and safety, only buy brands that are certified by an independent body such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.
In addition to dietary supplements, dried licorice root can be found through a traditional Chinese medicine distributor. Whole licorice root is harder to use, given that you are less able to control the dose. It’s easy to make shaved root into tea – steep a tablespoon of the shavings in a cup of boiling water.
How to Store
Store supplements in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
How to Cook
Hard and woody licorice roots impart the most flavor when steeped in hot liquid. Teas, syrups, sauces and custards can be infused by adding the root, heating, and then removing before serving. Increase the intensity of the flavour by adding more roots, or lengthening the amount of time that the roots are steeped in the liquid.
Licorice roots still give off strong aromas without needing to be heated. Like vanilla pods, they can be used to flavor sugar, and like dried juniper berries, they can be used to liven up salt cures.
Powdered licorice and licorice compound, can be added straight to recipes.
The Queen of Delicious
- 15 Medjool dates pitted
- ⅓ cup lucuma powder
- ⅓ cup coconut oil melted
- 1 tablespoon raw licorice powder
Pit the dates and melt the coconut oil.
Measure all the ingredients in a food processor or a blender and blend until the fudge starts to form a ball.
Press the fudge in a rectangular container and let to set in the fridge.
Cut into cubes and serve.