One of the effects of this corona pandemic is to make you think about your lungs and respiratory system. Can you breathe easily ?

It is vitally important to protect your lungs. There are things you cannot control individually (like air pollution, unless you have a factory that is creating it. Don’t add to it by bursting firecrackers or using a car when you can walk. Reduce it by planting trees). But you can control your food.

A hazard to the lungs in your daily diet is any form of milk. Curd, cheese, paneer, ice-cream, butter and ghee, or anything that has dairy in it such as tea, confectionary, biscuits or desserts.

Why is it that, when you are ill, the first thing a doctor recommends is to stop milk? Because that is the time you need to breathe properly. And if phlegm or mucus blocks your air passages then you won’t be able to.

Mucus is produced by mucus cells in the lining of the nose, throat, sinuses, bronchii of the lungs, trachea as well as the small intestines, the large intestine and conjunctiva in the upper eyelid. It acts as protective covering keeping the tissues underneath from drying out. It is a sticky viscous matter and identifies foreign matter like dirt, trapping it and shuttling it out of the body before it reaches the lungs.

Normally the body produces about a litre of mucus a day and this slides down the throat without us even noticing. But when we have a reaction to an irritant, the production of mucus increases, and it becomes thicker. Excess mucus causes a runny nose, for instance. If you suffer from a chronic cough that won’t go away, wake up with puffy or crusty eyes in the morning, a constant stuffy nose or bad breath throughout the day, you may be suffering from excess mucus production. Excessive mucus indicates that the body is in a state of agitation – reacting negatively to pollutants, allergies, food. All the systems start “misbehaving”: lymphatic, gastrointestinal and respiratory.

The digestive tract contains millions of tiny microvilli that absorb nutrients from food. 80% of all absorption takes place in the small intestine. When excess mucus builds up in the intestine, it creates glue that sticks in the folds of the intestinal walls. This results in major blockages resulting in absorption issues, digestive problems, and an overall poorly functioning body.

A major cause of excessive mucus production is the diet.

And dairy plays a major role.

You can produce excessive mucus after drinking milk. Gustatory rhinitis is a reflex triggered by eating. For instance, the nose becomes runny after eating spicy food. Milk proteins trigger the same reaction in some people. Two foods that cause an excessive mucus build-up are dairy and wheat. This is the reason : Casein in dairy products and gluten in wheat require very strong stomach acids for digestion. Foods containing these usually have left over particles that are too big to be used by the body. These partially digested food particles putrefy. The body produces extra mucus to coat them to prevent further putrefaction in the intestines.

What effect does mucus have on your breathing ? Milk is an emulsion – it has droplets of fat suspended in water. That fat mixes with saliva. The combination of the fat in milk and the sticky compounds in saliva make the fluid thicker and stickier. The thickness coats the mouth and the emulsion remains in the mouth even after the dairy has been swallowed. Mucus in the throat, thick and drippy, seems to increase when you take any form of dairy. This irritates the throat giving you a desire to clear your throat repeatedly and/or a cough – since the body wants to clear the air passage. Nasal congestion and secretion increase for the same reason and thick, dry mucus can be hard to clear.

Is this a recent discovery ? In the 12th century Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), a much revered  philosopher and doctor who, in his medical writings, which described many conditions, including asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, and pneumonia influenced generations of physicians, wrote that milk causes "a stuffing in the head." Traditional Chinese medical texts have linked dairy consumption with "a humidifying effect and thicker phlegm," (Balfour-Lynn: Archives of Disease in Childhood.) The most important book on baby care "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care", of which more than 50 million copies have been sold since its publication in 1946, also asserts that “dairy products may cause more mucus complications and more discomfort with upper respiratory infections"


The dairy industry has sponsored hundreds of “research” articles in order to prove that milk does not affect mucus production. In the recent study “ Relationship between milk intake and mucus production in adult volunteers challenged with rhinovirus-2.” By Pinnock, Graham, Mylvaganam, Douglas, 51volunteers were given colds and then made to drink 0-11 glasses of milk per day. Daily respiratory symptoms and milk and dairy product intake records were kept over a 10-day period. While the study stated that milk did not increase the nasal secretions, 5% reported significantly more cough and congestion symptoms. Even the authors admitted that : while dairy doesn't cause your body to make more phlegm, it may make the existing phlegm thicker and more irritating to your throat. This may make breathing more difficult and aggravate a cough.


The authors of another study “Does milk increase mucus production?” Bartley, Read, McGlashan write

“Excessive milk consumption has a long association with increased respiratory tract mucus production and asthma. Such an association cannot be explained using a conventional allergic paradigm and there is limited medical evidence showing causality. In the human colon, β-casomorphin-7 (β-CM-7), an exorphin derived from the breakdown of A1 milk, stimulates mucus production from gut MUC5AC glands. In the presence of inflammation similar mucus overproduction from respiratory tract MUC5AC glands characterises many respiratory tract diseases. β-CM-7 from the blood stream could stimulate the production and secretion of mucus production from these respiratory glands. These prerequisites could explain why a subgroup of the population, who have increased respiratory tract mucus production, find that many of their symptoms, including asthma, improve on a dairy elimination diet.”

In simple words : As the milk starts breaking down, it releases a protein which boosts the activity of a gene involved in mucus production. This mucus affects the bowel but it could affect the respiratory tract if the bowel were weakened by infection and inflamed, which would allow the mucus to travel elsewhere in the body.

According to the Lung Health Institute if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), excessive mucus production can be very dangerous. A person without COPD is generally able to get rid of excess mucus in time, but those with this disease have a problem because of poor function of the cilia in the respiratory tract and from having an “ineffective cough” due to weak respiratory muscles and obstructed airways.

The Institute advises that people stay away from foods that can potentially increase mucus production. They list : Red meat, Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, Ice Cream, Butter, Eggs, Bread, Pasta, Sweet desserts, Candy, Coffee, Tea, Soda, Alcoholic beverages.

Here are some foods that have the ability to reduce your mucus production: all Leafy Greens, Radish, Cauliflower, Citrus ; Pumpkin; Pineapple; Watercress; Celery; Onion; Garlic; Honey or Agar; Ginger; Cayenne pepper; Chamomile; Olive oil; Broth; Decaf tea.

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

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