Our wild and wondrous world is rich with botanicals that support every aspect of the human body. Science has advanced so much that we can now identify specific compounds within plants (p.s. there are thousands of them!) that benefit humans. You likely have some common medications in your cabinet right now that are sourced from plants.
Did you know that metformin, a common diabetes medication, is derived from French Lilac, known botanically as Galega officinalis? Or that aspirin was derived from a compound found in the bark of willow trees? An extensive amount of knowledge is housed within plants that apply to human health and disease. Here are three botanicals that support the gut-lung axis:
1. Curcuma longa
Curcuma longa is part of the ginger family and is more commonly called turmeric. The plant's root is used in plant medicine and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Curcuminoids are extracted from the roots and have many actions, notably inflammation modulation. Literature demonstrates the wide-ranging benefits of this botanical, including anti-inflammatory action, liver-protective activity, antioxidant action, and the alteration of gene expression. Curcuma longa root is bitter and pungent, but its effects on the gut and lungs are oh so sweet.
Curcuma longa lung health effects
- In cell and murine models of asthma, curcumin is associated with reduced airway inflammation, less hyper-responsiveness, and modulation of mucus secretion.
- In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease models, curcumin was able to influence gene processes associated with the mechanism of COPD positively. Another study demonstrated the anti-inflammatory action of this plant in COPD.
- Curcumin is currently being studied for its possible beneficial role in lung cancer.
Curcuma longa gut health effects
- Reduction of intestinal inflammation is commonly found in autoimmune conditions of the gut, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
- Alteration of immune cells with a trend towards blocking immune cells that contribute to intestinal inflammation.
Of note, curcumin is considered the most biologically active constituent of turmeric. When choosing a product, be mindful of the product quality, dose, and delivery method as this plant is not easily absorbed in the body.
2. Allium cepa
Allium cepa sounds sophisticated, but what if I told you this was just a regular onion! Onion has been used for thousands of years across many cultures, both as food and medicine. Other plants in the same family as onion includes lilies, tulips, and garlic. Energetically, onions are hot and pungent. They're also full of flavonoid plant compounds with multiple actions in the body, including antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and blood pressure-lowering physiological activities. Adding onions to your diet can also be an easy and accessible way to support the gut-lung axis.
Lung health properties of Allium cepa
- A 2021 comprehensive review on the effects of onion constituents in respiratory disease found a reduction of lung inflammatory cells in models of asthma. Other studies show a decrease in the frequency of asthma attacks.
- Animal and human models also demonstrate a beneficial effect on lung infection and lung cancer with onion and its constituents.
Gut health properties of Allium cepa
- Onions are rich in organosulfur compounds, which demonstrate a myriad of effects in the gut.
- Onion juice and onion bulb extract have been found to reduce the amount of C. difficile bacteria in the gut and its toxin production. Overgrowth of C. difficile in the gut leads to infectious disease and damaging intestinal consequences.
- Onions are also considered prebiotics, meaning they behave as a food source for intestinal bacteria. Research reveals onion can grow beneficial bacteria in the gut, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Onions can be enjoyed in savory dishes, pickled, or eaten raw.
3. Ocimum tenuiflorum/sanctum
More commonly known as tulsi or holy basil, this plant is sacred in Indian culture. Tulsi boasts an impressive resume with benefits reaching several body systems. Other plants in the same family as tulsi include rosemary, lavender, and mint - all known for their aromatic properties. These plants are rich in oils often used for medicinal purposes, and tulsi is a wonderful botanical to support the gut-lung axis.
Tulsi lung health effects
- Murine models demonstrate the antibacterial effect of tulsi in the lungs. Researchers found that the use of tulsi was associated with a decreased lung colonization by bacteria. However, it should not be mistaken for an antibiotic effect. A physician should properly manage respiratory infections.
- Another study revealed that an extract from tulsi worked to reduce the activation of inflammatory chemicals and inflammation signals caused by a lung virus.
- Some studies purport specific immune-modulating properties of tulsi and its antiviral activity against respiratory-specific viruses.
Tulsi gut health effects
- The antioxidant capacity of tulsi is associated with protective gut effects. Literature demonstrates that tulsi can prevent ulcer formation and also possesses ulcer-healing properties. In one murine study of intestinal ulcers, researchers found that tulsi could heal intestinal ulcers and increase mucin-a protective mucus protein in the gut.
- Numerous studies also detail the anti-microbial capacity of tulsi. One model even demonstrated these effects on specific bacteria. There are trillions of bacteria in the human intestinal tract, and the overgrowth of particular populations can create an unfavorable intestinal environment. Tulsi represents a botanical with the potential for balancing the intestinal microbiome.
Tulsi can be utilized in a variety of ways. Commonly it's consumed as a tea but can also be dosed in a liquid or supplemented extract.
About the Author
Asia Muhammad, ND, is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and an expert in functional medicine and personalized health. She specializes in gastroenterology, mind-body medicine, and stress management and has received additional training in mind-body therapies. Learn more at asiamuhammad.com or follow Dr. Asia on Instagram.