Can’t cough? Who knew!

cough

There are many common health issues among older people.

Failing eyesight, osteoporosis, hearing loss… these are commonplace issues among senior citizens…

Like they say, getting old isn’t for wimps. But hey, it’s better than the alternative, right?

But I never really considered losing the ability to cough as something I’d need to add to my “old age problems” list. In fact, it hadn’t even crossed my mind until I came across some interesting research… turns out, it’s a fairly common issue among older folks, and it can have some severe side effects.

One of the main reasons older people are so susceptible to respiratory infections (and far more likely to end up with severe complications, like we’ve seen in the older population with COVID-19) is that they’re unable to clear their lungs.

Infections are more likely because of the declining strength of the diaphragm — the muscle responsible for helping you take deep breaths and cough up the droplets where infection lurks and breeds.

If you can’t cough, you can’t rid yourself of infections in your lungs…

But there’s good news!

Research published in The Journal of Physiology has found an easy way to improve the function of the diaphragm and help older people clear their lungs more effectively and avoid infection.

It’s 100 percent natural and comes with proven heart health benefits!

Muscle power is key to diaphragm function 

Previous research showed that nitrate helps muscles by improving the use of calcium in their cells to enhance power.

This led University of Florida researchers to wonder if nitrate could produce the same reaction in the diaphragm to help patients improve lung clearance.

The team gave one group of old mice sodium nitrate in their drinking water daily for 14 days, while a control group received regular water.

The results of the study showed that dietary nitrate supplementation resulted in a pronounced increase in the strength of the diaphragm!

Those old mice had the ability to both cough and breathe better and more deeply.

And the team says that if these results translate to humans, they could have the answer they’ve been searching for to improve the function of the respiratory muscles in the elderly and reduce the number of deaths due to infection.

Even better, Leonardo Ferreira, senior author on the study says, “Our findings are especially important in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic as they suggest that, if replicated in humans, dietary nitrate is useful to improve respiratory muscle dysfunction that contributes to difficulty in weaning patients from mechanical ventilation.”

Nitrates — how to get them in your diet plus other benefits

What’s truly amazing is that you don’t have to be in your golden years to get the benefits nitrates have to offer!

In fact, in addition to the current study’s findings that nitrate can help you breathe better so you can ward off infection, nitrates come with other impressive benefits, including:

  • Promoting healthy blood pressure — Your body needs nitrate to convert nitrite into nitric oxide which dilates your blood vessels and helps keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.
  • Supports healthy blood vessels — Research published in the journal Hypertension found that supplementation with nitrate-rich beet juice improved the endothelial function of blood vessels by 20 percent.
  • Enhances exercise tolerance and performance — Thanks to its effects on blood flow, nitrate can also help you improve your exercise performance and get through your workout more easily.

This means that dietary nitrate is a great way to improve your overall circulatory health in addition to the breathing, lung and diaphragm benefits it promotes.

Nitrate can be found in foods like:

  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Radishes

In addition to increasing your nitrate intake, there’s also something called diaphragmatic breathing that can strengthen the diaphragm. Here are instructions from the Cleveland Clinic on how to do it:

  1. Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  4. Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.

At first, practice this exercise 5-10 minutes about 3-4 times per day. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing this exercise.

Even though coughing will garner you some dirty looks in public these days, it’s a super important function and is a crucial part of helping to keep you free of infection. So… cough it up… preferably into your elbow whilst wearing a mask out of respect for others!