Ask The Doctor: Chronic Mucus

Question: am a forty-year-old woman with laryngitis and a cough which produces yellow-green sputum. My current bout has now gone on for about 1 month, but it has been recurrent for a year. A year ago when I started a new job at a software company that had been the site of a chemical reprocessing factory. Soon after working there I had four different bouts of what was called “sinusitis.” Each time I had green mucus from my nose, pain in my sinus areas, and headaches. Each time I was given an antibiotic, which partially helped with the symptoms. Now the doctors are suggesting a month of antibiotics and prednisone and I am wondering whether there is another choice for me?

Answer: This is a situation I deal with frequently in my practice and one that suggests a very different understanding of infections from the current paradigm. According to the infectious theory of disease, you are the unfortunate victim of a tenacious bacterial infection that has created your distressing symptoms. Current medical theory considers the presence of green mucus as proof that your symptoms are caused by bacteria. The facts in your case, and in many others I have encountered, suggest a completely different explanation.

Consider this: your problem started soon after assuming a new job, one in which you were undoubtedly exposed to noxious chemicals that posed a significant threat to your well-being. The body, in response to any foreign body exposure, attempts to flush the toxic chemicals out. (Think of what happens when you get a splinter in your finger. Eventually you form pus to remove the splinter.) There is only one way to do this if the toxins cannot be thoroughly metabolized and excreted through the bowels and urine, and that is to produce mucus and “flush” the poisons out. The bacteria in the mucus, far from being the cause of the problem, act to “biodegrade” or metabolize these poisons. This is no different from the fact that bacteria or algae emerge in ponds or lakes that have been polluted, not as an “infection,” but to “biodegrade” these toxic elements. Seen in this light the bacteria are part of the therapy, not part of the problem. The mucus is the flushing out of poisons, not a “disease.” That there is accompanying pain and distress in no way changes the facts of the case.

That this explanation gives a more realistic picture of events is shown by what has happened in your case. Whenever you tried to eliminate the mucus and the bacteria without treating the cause, the symptoms came back. Eventually, as always happens, your body will either give up and “accept” the toxic chemicals. Instead of residing in the more superficial structures of the body, such as the sinuses, they will move into the deeper structures, such as the lungs. This is a “bad” progression of events.

It is interesting to me that the nature of the mucus, whether green, brown or clear, is not a reflection of a certain type of infection as we are taught, but actually tells us about the nature of that which we are flushing out. If it is toxic chemicals, as in your case, the mucus is “nasty” or green. If your body is flushing out more harmless stuff like pollen or cat hair, then the mucus is clear.

The solution to your problem is to help your body flush out the mucus–only this will restore you to health. To do this, you must stop exposing yourself to these chemicals. At the same time, you must give your body the nutrients it needs to detoxify. All the elements of a nutrient-dense diet have a part to play, but none is more important than vitamin A. Toxins produce undesirable effects because they disrupt vitamin A pathways. This means taking cod liver oil on a regular basis, eating liver once a week and consuming plenty of butter, whole milk products and eggs from pastured animals. Gelatin-rich bone broths support the liver and help it detoxify. These foods can even provide protection in the event that you are unable to change your job.

Adequate protein and fat are also essential. The body actually can get rid of toxins much more easily when the diet is rich in whole animal foods.

An herb that works very well to heal “green mucus disease” is goldenseal. I recommend goldenseal tablets from Mediherb, one tablet 2 times per day for one month.

This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2003