*Researchers validate natural ‘cures’ for cold, dust-related ailments

The Harmattan is here again. Most parts of the country are already feeling the harsh weather condition. The Harmattan is a season in the West African subcontinent, which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. It is characterized by dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, of the same name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. It is cold in most places, but can be hot in some places, depending on circumstances.

It has been shown that during Harmattan, humidity drops to as low as 15 per cent, which can result in spontaneous nosebleeds for some people. Other health effects on humans may include conditions of the skin, eyes, and respiratory system, including aggravation of asthma.

The weather is associated with frequent headaches, cough, cold, sore throat, sneezing, wet eyes, catarrh and general nasal tract disorder causing great discomfort.Several studies have shown that the dry, cold and dusty wind associated with the Harmattan weather can also lead to more complicated diseases like rheumatism, cardiac arrest, nose bleeding, arthritis and even death from hypothermia, because the respiratory system suffers greatly when the body is exposed to cold and dry weather. It can also triggers crises in sickle cell patients.

Then there are of course the mild challenges like cracking of lips or breaking of lips, sole of the feet, conjunctivitis, dry skin and others.However, according to a recent study published in the journal Environ Health Insights, the cold dusty Harmattan is a season of anguish for cardiologists and patients.

The Harmattan, the cold dusty season in Sub-Saharan Africa, is the season of greatest concern for hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, which have demonstrated a seasonal pattern.According to the study, Harmattan aggravates and worsens the outcome of blood pressure, stroke, heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases.

Harmattan and cardiovascular diseases
The researchers led by Basil N. Okeahialam said their experience in Jos, Nigeria, is that during the Harmattan period, blood pressure rises among hypertensives, along with a rise in admissions for congestive cardiac failure and stroke or cerebrovascular accident (CVA). This observation, albeit on hospital cohorts, can be extrapolated to the population. The burden of care on the cardiologist rises, constituting an additional burden, while readmission rates, higher morbidity, and reduced quality of life with attendant high economic burden constitute further burden for the patient. Occasionally, death results suddenly, leaving the patient in no position to tell his/her story.

Particularly among temperature-sensitive subjects, during cold weather, mortality from hypertension is higher, as blood pressure tends to rise. This has already been observed, as our own local experience in Jos. This is thought to be a response to thermoregulatory vasoconstriction, which seeks to conserve core temperature. Apart from this, exposure to cold increases the activity of the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system activity, with resultant rise in blood pressure. If the period of cold-induced hypertension is long, blood pressure may not become normal again. Also in cold ambient temperatures, sweating is reduced, leading to increased sodium loading, resulting in elevation of blood pressure.

Other mechanistic explanations for rises in blood pressure as enunciated by Cuspidi et al. include activation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system and increased hemorheology with attendant rise in peripheral resistance. Additionally, the intensity of dust haze reduces the quantum of ultraviolet rays of the sun during Harmattan. This reduction results in low temperatures in the environment that reduces vitamin D3 and parathormone production with attendant hypertension. This physiological change would naturally be more manifest if temperature variations are large, which as shown in the PAMELA study increases blood pressure variability with a higher pre-awakening morning blood pressure surge. These perturbations significantly contribute to myocardial infarction (MI) and CVA, which arise during this season. They also create a dilemma for the cardiologist who does not know how to respond to these increases with drugs that could give rise to the problems when the weather warms.

Heart failure (HF) admissions are also known to increase during the cold season. This arises in the context of hypertension. The reduced sweating and insensible fluid loss that contribute to elevated blood pressure also result in fluid overload, resulting in HF. Those patients already in chronic HF are bound to decompensate due to elevation of blood pressure and its variability. The arrhythmogenicity trigger potential of cold weather also results in acute HF or acute exacerbation of chronic stable HF. In cold weather, hemodynamic change in increased heart rate and total peripheral resistance with a fall in cardiac output result in acute pulmonary edema, especially in the background of hypertension or ventricular disease. It is also likely that the causes of this seasonal variation go beyond temperature changes. Neuroendocrine and metabolic function changes have been reported to operate, especially with regard to thyroid and adrenal function.

Harmattan and rise in infections
The researchers noted that in low temperatures, the respiratory tract is dried of mucus and the bare epithelium loses its first line of defense. There is a proneness to infections primarily viral, which increases platelet stickiness, thrombus formation, and hypercoagulability of the blood due to cytokines and other inflammatory factors elaborated. These increase morbidity and mortality. In people with chronic bronchitis, the acute exacerbations caused by infections acutely upset the pulmonary vascular hemodynamics, placing a heavy burden on the heart.

There is also a worsening of the airway disease with significant background low-grade inflammation. This accelerates atherosclerosis, increasing risk of MI, sudden cardiac death, and CVA. Again in cold weather, the lipid profile becomes atherogenic (tending to promote the formation of fatty deposits in the arteries) also increasing atherosclerosis. Heating needs during the cold season usually lead to people trying to manipulate indoor climate conditions. This results in seasonal blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (CVD) morbidity and mortality being attenuated if not completely abolished.

In Nigerian environment, attempts to increase the indoor ambient temperatures lead to pollution through smoke emission by biomass fuel combustion, lamps, and stoves. The benefit of greater warmth is counteracted by the smoke that brings about cough, infection, and obstructive airway disease. The inflammation, secondary polycythemia, and pulmonary hypertension conjointly produce cardiovascular diseases.

Foods to boost immunity against cold-related infections
However, scientists have identified over fifteen natural foods that boost the immune system and prevent cold-related ailments including pneumonia and respiratory illnesses.

Indeed, several local herbs have been shown to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Although there are no cures for the flu virus, researchers suggest many natural remedies can ease the symptoms. They have been shown to provide relief and prevent viral infections.

Top on the list is gin-garlic. It has been touted as the most potent herbal combination in the world. It has been used to treat from heart diseases to tuberculosis. A cocktail of ginger and garlic has been shown to be effective in bursting the cold and influenza viruses.

A United Kingdom research suggests people who take a garlic supplement each day are far less likely to fall victim to the common cold than those who do not. Nigerian researchers have also demonstrated that local species can be successfully used to beat the cold virus.

The spices include: pepper fruit; African pepper; scent leaf; thyme; onion; garlic; nutmeg; Benin pepper; black pepper; wild pepper; curry leaf; chili pepper; red pepper; grains of paradise or alligator pepper; and ginger.According to the study, crushed garlic (soup) is used against microbial infection, asthma cough and respiratory problems. The juice of the bulb is given as ear-drops against earaches. As a seasoning and flavouring agent, garlic is principally taken against fevers and chills.

A cold infusion serves as a body-wash for infants as protection against chills. The bulb also serves as effective remedy for hypertension, muscular pain, giddiness and sore eyes. It is digestive and carminative and removes pains of the bowels. When powdered with nation it is applied as a dressing on ulcers and skin diseases.

Before now, garlic has been traditionally used to fight-off and treat the symptoms of the common cold.A United Kingdom study found that a daily garlic supplement containing allicin, a purified component of garlic considered to be the major biologically active agent produced by the plant, reduced the risk of catching a cold by more than half. It also found that allicin-containing garlic supplements were effective in treating infections caused by the hospital superbug, Multi-drug Resistant Staphylococcus Aureous (MRSA).

Until now, ginger has been extensively used in herbal remedies. In fact, ginger has been used to control or prevent nausea, vomiting, and motion sickness; as an anti-inflammatory (a drug that reduces pain and swelling as in arthritis), a cold remedy, an aid to digestion; a remedy for intestinal gas.

The rhizome is used to toothache, congested nostrils, cough, colds, influenza and flu, asthma, stomach problems, rheumatism, piles, hepatitis and liver problems. Ginger tea is commonly taken against coughs, colds and flu.

“Gingerol” is one of the oleoresin compounds found in ginger. It is also the spiciest part of the rhizome and may be specifically responsible for coming to the aid of cold symptoms. When heated, it becomes sweeter by nature and known as “zingerone.” As the ginger root, or rhizome, begins to dry, shagaols also form. These, like gingerol, seem to provide some positive benefits.

Hot ginger teas have been shown to be one of the ways to enjoy the benefits of ginger and possibly relieve cold symptoms. The steaming effect is part of the reason it can clear congestion and soothe the linings of a stuffy nose.The leaves and bulb are used for asthma, convulsion, hypotension, ulcers, cough, cold and skin infections.

Juice of onion is mixed with honey in the treatment of asthma, cough, cold convulsion and hypotension. Fresh onion leaves is mostly used to eat roasted meat (suya) as a carminative and to reduce cholesterol level. Onion bulb is mostly used for flavouring and garnishing soup and foods.

Next on the list is Pepper fruit, which is botanically called Denniettia tripetala and belongs to the plant family Annonaceae. In Nigeria, it is ako in Edo; nkarika in Ibibio/Efik; nmimi in Igbo; imako in Urhobo; and igberi in Yoruba. The study found that the leaves, fruits and seeds are chewed for cough and enhancing appetite.

Ethopian pepper, African pepper or Guinea pepper (Xylopia aethiopica) is of the plant family Annonaceae. The Edo calls it unien; Efik-atta in Ibibio; uda in Ibo; urheri in Urhobo; and eeru in Yoruba. The stem bark, fruits, seeds and roots are used for stomachaches; dysentery; bronchitis; cancer; ulcers; fever and debility; rheumatism; post-partum management and fertility-enhancing; and vermifuge (a medication capable of causing the evacuation of parasitic intestinal worms).

Pergularia daemia of the plant family Asclepiadaceae has no common English name. To the Igbo it is utazi; and Yoruba – teji. The leaves, stem and root barks are used for cough, fever, catarrh and diarrhoea in infants.Sweet basil, Hairy basil, Tea bush, or Scent leaf (Ocimum species) belong to the plant family Labiateae. The whole plants and leaves are used as an anticonvulsant, diaphoretic and carminative. It cures cough, catarrh, cold, fever, chest pains and diarrhoea. Others are earache, ringworm, nasal bleeding, anti-spasmolytic and relief of pains of the colon.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is of plant family Labiateae. The leaves and fruits are used as antiseptic, antihelmintic (worm expeller), expectorant (cough medication), carminative (an herb or preparation that either prevents formation of gas in the stomach), diuretic (induces urination and for hypertension), emmenagogic (a medicine that promotes the menstrual discharge) and sedative. Thyme leaves and fruits are rich in thymol. The powdered form of the foliage is prepared and used in food for both seasoning and curative purposes.

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is of plant family, Piperaceae. Local names are unknown. The fruits and seeds are used to cure dyspepsia (indigestion), diarrhoea, cholera, piles, urinary problems, boils, rheumatism, toothaches and headaches.

Cayenne, African pepper, Guinea pepper, Bir pepper and Chilies (Capsicum species) are of the plant family Solanaceae. According to the study, three main species occur and are used in the area. The fruits and seeds are used to cure cold, fever, dysentery, malaria and gonorrhoea.

Grains of paradise, Guinea grains or Alligator pepper (Aframomum melegueta) is of the plant family Zingiberaceae. The rhizome, leaves, fruits and seeds are used to cure worms, small pox, chicken pox, catarrh, congested chest, fractures, hypertension and cholera.

The decoction of the leaves is used for small pox and chicken pox. When the decoction of the leaves is mixed with leaves of lime, lemon grass and mango it is used as remedy for catarrh while the steam from the decoction is inhaled for congested chest.
Chicken soup fights cold

Chicken soup can have anti-inflammatory affects that can ease the symptoms of colds, according to researchers. Further studies found that the aroma, spices and heat from the soup can clear sinuses and decrease congestion brought on by the common cold. A researcher from University of Nebraska, United States (U.S.), put his ‘grandma’s soup’ recipe to the test the myth that has been told for centuries.

A study found that chicken soup could ease the symptoms of upper respiratory infections because it contains anti-inflammatory agents.The suspected benefits of chicken soup date back centuries ago when the Egyptian Jewish physician and philosopher, Moshe ben Maimon, recommended chicken soup for cold symptoms in his 12th century writings.

Since then, recipes for the warm broth have been passed down for generations surrounded by rumors of cold-fighting abilities.Dr. Stephen Rennard studied three batches of what he calls Grandma’s Soup, which includs chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper.

He examined if the movement of neutrophils, the most common white cell in the blood that defends the body against infection, would be blocked or reduced by chicken soup.It is suspected that reducing the movement of neutrophils could decrease activity in the upper respiratory tract that causes cold-like symptoms.

And the results found just that, suggesting that chicken soup might have an anti-inflammatory components, which may ease symptoms and shorten upper respiratory tract infections.However, this study wasn’t done on humans, but instead their white blood cells. Rennard added that the psychological and physical comfort soup provides could also have a placebo effect.

Another study conducted nearly 40 years ago found that chicken soup’s aroma, heat and spices could help to clear sinuses and congestion by breaking up mucus and opening airways. Florida internist Dr. Gail van Diepen told Daily Mail UK Online: “Increasing fluid intake is important when you have a cold.”This is due to the release of fluids from a runny nose or feverish sweat that causes dehydration.

So when you are sick, your body needs to replace those lost fluids and a brothy soup can do just that, Dr. van Diepen suggests.And though researchers were not able to identify the exact ingredients in the soup that made it fight colds, they theorize it may be a combination of ingredients that work together to have beneficial effects.The soup may improve rehydration and nutrition in the body, according to Rennard.

Most soups include ingredients high in nutrients. Grandma’s Soup contains more than five vegetables high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants.Drinking an entire bowl can provide that daily dose of nutrients which can boost the immune system to battle cold symptoms.

Drink more water
The Harmattan beyond being very dusty also leaves people very dry, therefore people have to keep themselves hydrated all the time. Get plenty of fluids. It helps break up congestion, makes the throat moist, and keeps one from getting dehydrated. A bottle of water should be one’s companion always this season!

Regular washing of hands with soap and water
Handwashing is an easy way to prevent infections and diseases related to this season, as it would prevent people from getting sick and spreading illness. As people touche people, dusty surfaces and objects throughout the day, they will accumulate dirt and germs on their hands; they can infect self with these germs when they touch their eyes, nose or mouth. So, frequent hand washing is a lifesaver this harmattan period.

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