What's up with my nose?! Part 1

This is a 2 part series about what mucus is all about, why we get it and how we can prevent illnesses that start in our mucus.

Do you get the sniffles a lot this time of year? Wake up all stuffed up and cannot breathe in the mornings? Well, there is a good reason for that and it all comes down to our bodies response to the cold air the winter season brings. Let’s talk about mucus and snot for a bit. Most of us think of it as that nasty stuff that comes along with colds, flu and the winter season that is super annoying but believe it or not, it is there as a protective shield against illness. Mucus is constantly being made by our mucus membranes that line our mouth, nose, throat, and airway even when we do not feel stopped up or have a runny nose. Mucus helps keep our mucus membranes, or as I like to call it, inner skin, moist to prevent damage to the skin because it is more sensitive than our outer skin to temperature changes, certain foods, bacteria, viruses, and foreign objects. So what is up with stuffy noses during the winter? The technical term for this is vasomotor rhinitis; which essentially means as we breathe in a shocking cold, dry air, the inner skin in our nose, throat, and lungs get dried out thus signaling them to produce mucus to maintain appropriate moisture on our inner skin. This cycle continues to perpetuate, hence the stuffy nose every time you come back inside from the cold weather and warranting a Costco supply of tissues in the home during the winter.

Now where do illnesses play into this picture? With the increased amount of mucus that sits in our nose, mouth, throat, lungs we now have a lovely playground for bacteria and viruses therefore increases our susceptibility to illness. So essentially it is better to have that runny nose than that stuffed up nose so there is less opportunity for those bacteria or viruses to have a place called home. 

So let’s talk about the things we really should be avoiding to ward off all that mucus. These are things that ultimately increase mucus production.

  • Cow’s milk products (milk, cheese, yogurt): I know, such a bummer. Though the research behind the milk-mucus theory is still not conclusive, it is a fact that more and more people are being diagnosed each day with a dairy IgE allergy. When we have increased IgE antibodies (same type of response happens when we have allergies to pollens and grasses), our body responds with inflammation, particularly in our respiratory and digestive tracts. Dairy therefore causes mucus production all the way from our nose and throat to our colon. In today’s civilization, our bodies are having a harder and harder time tolerating the amount of dairy we put into it and our bodies respond to it by creating mucus and sometimes other side effects such as fatigue, brain fog, and body aches. 
  • Bananas: Though bananas can be very nutritious, it has been shown to thicken and increase mucus production. Bananas increase the release of histamine in our bodies therefore we get a literal swelling in our inner skin from throat to intestines. Histamine is produced by your immune system when your body starts to recognize something as foreign and this is the reason we start swelling from a skin scrape or bug bite, to the food you just ate that your stomach seems to not be happy with. 
  • Added Sugars: Indeed, it means eating fewer of those holiday cakes and cookies. When we say added sugar, we are talking mostly about the white sugar added to foods to make them extra tasty and addictive. Added sugar impacts our health in many ways including suppressing our immune system making it harder for our bodies to stave off those bugs that want to have a party in our mucus. We live in an age of over consumption and sugar is hiding everywhere in our processed foods. Now you know why that granola you thought was so healthy is so delicious. So be sure to read those labels carefully and check out the amount of sugar you are taking in with each serving. If you find your snacks are packed with sugar, let’s find an alternative that still packs a powerful flavorful punch without all that sugar. Here are the current American Heart Association recommendations for sugars:
    • Maximum daily recommended intake for children 2-18 years old: 25 grams per day (4 tsp)
    • Maximum daily recommended intake for Men: 37.5 grams per day (9 tsp), Women: 25 grams per day (6 tsp)
    • To put these numbers into perspective, one 12oz coke contains 39 grams of sugar. yikes.

Read my What is up with my nose?! Part 2 to learn about the things you CAN do to prevent mucus buildup and illness during the winter season!

Here to empower you with the knowledge of healthiness,
Dr. Meg

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements. 


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Lauren CarterMucus, Seasonal