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All Things Health Team
Written by All Things Health Team

Reviewed by Dr Nurul Aishah Jamaludin and Physician Anita Pee on October 7, 2022

5 Ways Bird’s Nest Helps with Your Respiratory Health

You’ve heard the claims about bird’s nest and its benefits for respiratory health. These 5 reasons will make you a believer.

Dried bird’s nest 

You may recall old TV commercials in Malaysia that feature bird’s nest soup as a potent and effective health food. As a child, you might have even giggled about the fact that this natural health food contains the saliva of male swiftlets secreted and used as a binding agent to make their nests.

We tend to associate bird’s nest with Eastern medicine, specifically with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). But this delicacy is available throughout Asia. In fact, Malaysia is one of the largest producers of bird’s nest. 

There are numerous benefits of bird’s nest soup. There are different grades and the higher the grade, the more expensive it is. Apart from taking bird’s nest for your respiratory health, we’ll also let you in on a little secret about a more wallet-friendly alternative.

Why Birds’ Nest Is Great for Respiratory Health

Woman breathing fresh air outdoors
Bird’s nest can be consumed by people of all ages and has anti-ageing benefits too.

Bird’s nest is known to promote overall immunity, with many anti-ageing benefits. According to TCM physician Anita Pee, bird’s nest is traditionally used to clear phlegm, relieve chronic dry coughs, and reduce fatigue. As these are common conditions in people with respiratory health issues, bird’s nest is a common treatment for pregnant mothers and is safe for people of all ages.

“Bird’s nest contains many proteins and nutrients that can aid in recovery from chronic illnesses. It can also be used to stimulate appetite, improve digestion, and promote smooth bowel movement,” she further shares. 

1. Naturally antiviral 

Many studies demonstrate the possible ways in which bird’s nest can help inhibit viral activity. Of note are bioactive compounds such as sialic acid and thymol derivatives that have been isolated in these studies and then tested both in vitro (in test tubes) as well as in vivo (in living organisms).

One possible mechanism is that these compounds help inhibit the replicated virus from exiting host cells. It reduces an infection and paving the way for a person’s healing. In several studies, it is believed that the compounds in bird’s nest function similarly to antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir and amantadine. These studies have also shown that bird’s nest increases the amount lysosomes which are essentially the cell’s trash disposal system. This could help explain its activity against invading viruses in the human body. 

2. No major side effects 

Bird’s nest soup benefits your health without causing any harm: Unlike many antiviral drugs or vaccines, which directly enter and affect systems in your body, often with side effects, bird’s nest consists of complex organic material that have been shown to have very little harmful side effects.

“However, take caution, especially for those consuming bird’s nest for the first time,” advises Physician Pee. In some rare cases, a few people may have an allergy as one of birds nest side effects. However, studies have shown there is no known major or harmful side effects to consuming bird’s nest.

3. Anti-Inflammatory  

When your body’s immune system detects a virus, your body sets off its defences by attacking the virus. In some people, especially those with a compromised or overreactive immune system, this “attack” unleashes a cytokine “storm” that can overwhelm the body. These inflammatory responses usually contribute to the typical symptoms of a viral infection of the respiratory system. Examples are mucus and phlegm formation, sore throat, coughing, fever, and soreness.

Studies on bird’s nest also show that not only does it have anti-viral properties to work against the virus, it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Bird’s nest soup’s health benefits can address the symptoms caused by the body’s immune response to the infection. So, yes: bird’s nest’s health benefits include easing coughs.

4. A pleasant, mild flavour 

Despite the exotic air surrounding this health food made from bird’s saliva, bird’s nest has a mild taste. It is similar to egg whites, making it another reason why it makes great medicinal food. It’s more appealing and palatable for those with sensitive appetites.

This mild flavour, sometimes even perceived as bland by some, makes this food relatively easy to prepare. Not only does bird’s nest soup benefit your health, but it also harmonises with other TCM ingredients such as red dates (hong zhao, 红枣), goji berries (gou qi, 枸杞), and dried longan (long yan rou, 龙眼肉). Add a little rock sugar for sweetness. Some people even consider well-prepared bird’s nest soup to be a delectable dessert, minus the guilt. Hence, you can easily reap the benefits of bird’s nest even if you don’t enjoy strong flavours.

5. Great for overall health 

We often think of respiratory and lung health as a practice of fighting pathogens with potent drugs. While drugs do work to try to thwart an ongoing infection, they don’t often have other health benefits.

Studies on rats have been able to show, for example, the regenerative effect that bird’s nest has on human cartilage formation. There’s great potential for patients with osteoarthritis, a condition that usually inflicts the elderly as their bodies age. This superfood has been shown to help repair and revive corneal tissue, making it great to help fight the deterioration of eye tissue. Hence, the benefits of bird’s nest soup can be felt throughout your entire body.

The Poor Man’s Birds’ Nest

Chinese white or snow fungus dessert soup with ingredients of snow fungus, dried longan, red dates, lotus seeds, lily bulbs, goji berries and rock sugar on the side
White fungus, a TCM herb known as the “poor man’s bird’s nest”, works well for respiratory ailments, while being more wallet friendly.

With all the great benefits of bird’s nest, one setback is just how expensive it can be. Fortunately, TCM offers many options for different preferences, allowing you to enjoy common bird’s nest soup’s health benefits without buying the actual product. There are also other TCM ingredients to support your respiratory health. White fungus (yin er, 银耳), also known as snow fungus or snow ear, is a type of mushroom used in TCM to treat common respiratory ailments such as common colds and coughs. Known by its scientific name of Tremella fuciformis, the mushroom looks like a curly version of bird’s nest.

Studies have been able to identify polysaccharides in white fungus as the bioactive compound of this medicinal food. This compound has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-radiation, and anti-ageing properties. White fungus also has a skin-moisturising effect, promotes wound-healing, and can fight fatigue. Like bird’s nest, you can enjoy it as a dessert beverage made with rock sugar, goji berries, red dates, and longan. Adding lotus seeds (lian zi, 莲子) almost makes it a full meal.

Bird’s nest health benefits include improving respiratory health, with little to no side effects. For a more affordable alternative, you can take white fungus. Share this article with someone who is interested in bird’s nest so they can benefit from this superfood too.

References

  1. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2021. Edible Bird’s Nest: The Functional Values of the Prized Animal-Based Bioproduct From Southeast Asia–A Review. [Accessed 17 June 2022]. 
  2. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2021. The Anti-Viral and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Edible Bird’s Nest in Influenza and Coronavirus Infections: From Pre-Clinical to Potential Clinical Application. [Accessed 17 June 2022]. 
  3. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. 2021. A review on the production, structure, bioactivities and applications of Tremella polysaccharides.  [Accessed 17 June 2022]. 
  4. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 2019. The anti-fatigue and anti-anoxia effects of Tremella extract.  [Accessed 17 June 2022]. 

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