Asthma is a chronic allergic disease of the lungs that causes obstruction of the airways.
During an asthma attack, the bronchi (small airways in the lungs) become constricted, become inflamed, and patients feel as though they are “starving for air.” Spasms also occur, but these are usually caused by chronic inflammation and hypersensitivity of the airways due to exposure to various irritants or stimuli. An attack is usually triggered by exposure to an allergen or an irritant. Symptoms that follow include coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing.
Asthma affects over 17 million Americans—5 million children and 12 million adults. The incidence of hospitalization from asthma for children has increased 500% in the last two decades. Asthma rates have increased 75% in the United States since 1980. Asthma is responsible for millions of hospital and emergency room visits each year.
Asthma can be difficult to diagnosis conclusively, especially since asthma is closely akin to allergies and allergic reactions. It symptoms also mimic other diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis, and respiratory infections. In many ways, current conventional treatment for long-term management of asthma is woeful, and it is disconcerting that high concentrations of drugs such as steroids (prednisone), beta-adrenergic agonists, antihistamines, and other drugs must be prescribed to keep symptoms in check. In 2010, the FDA issued new safety controls for long-acting beta agonists (Serevent, Foradil) because there could be a life-threatening increase in the risk of asthma symptoms. Inhaling a muscle-relaxing medication such as Albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil) from a bronchodilator can be of extreme value to relieve an acute asthma attack. Asthma is one disease in which alternative and natural therapies can be beneficial whether taken by themselves or in combination with drug therapy.
Recent genetic-based research in asthma prevention has made progress in attempting to explain the epidemic rise in the number of asthma cases during the past 20 years. Children under age sixteen, especially those living in urban areas where air contamination is higher and adults over 65 years are most likely to suffer with asthma.
Generally, there are two types of asthma—allergic and non-allergic—although the two often occur together. Allergic-induced asthma can be the results of minimal overexposure to pollutants, chemical irritants, drug reactions (especially sulfa and penicillin), animal dander, foods (especially cow’s milk, wheat gluten and eggs), dust mites, food additives (sulfites), mold, tobacco, perfumes, and plants/flowers/weeds (mainly pollen and ragweed). The non-allergic asthma attacks can stem from emotions (anxiety and stress), adrenal disorders, humidity, excitement, over-exercise, laughing, low blood sugar, and temperature changes. Since asthma attacks can be either acute or chronic, both short and long-term goals of therapy should be establish with both your physician and alternative medicine practitioner.
Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants (fruits and vegetables) may help the risk of developing asthma, according to a study published in Thorax (2006, vol.61:388-393). It is suggested to eat a diet consisting of whole foods, primarily of fruits and vegetables, nuts, oatmeal, brown rice and whole grains. The diet should have adequate protein (soy, whey, cold-water fish), but be low in refined carbohydrates and sugar. Including “green drinks” in your diet, consisting of healthy foods that are mostly non-allergenic (e.g. blue-green algae, kamut, spirulina, wheat grass, kale and spinach) appears to be a healthy choice.
Eliminating excessive dairy products from the diet is the #1 thing one can do to lessen the wheezing and breathing problems associated with asthma. Excessive dairy foods such as cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream, pizza, and chocolate are not only allergic in nature, but they are both inflammatory and mucous-producing foods. Moderate consumption of cottage cheese, yogurt and butter (which is better than margarine) seem to create less phlegm problems.
Avoid gas-producing foods (beans, cabbage, and broccoli) that can irritate an asthma condition by putting pressure on the diaphragm. Onions and garlic are helpful in asthmatics because they inhibit the release of an enzyme that aids in releasing inflammatory chemicals.
Eliminate, rotate and desensitize allergens in the diet. Allergic reactions are common triggers to an asthma attack. Histamine release, produced by mast cells which are activated by circulating immune-system cells, can be a major trigger causing an attack. Utilize the Elimination Diet. Minimize consumption of any mucous-forming foods, particularly dairy, animal protein, sugar and chocolate.
Common Food Allergens
Common food allergens include dairy, wheat gluten, eggs, soy, nuts, yeast, certain red meats (especially pork), beets, aspartame, processed foods, white flour and white sugar, food additives and preservatives, benzoates, sulfites, benzaldehyde and artificial colors (FD&C yellow#5). It is suspected that the intake of certain trans-fats is associated with the development of asthma and allergies in children. Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils, cakes, cookies, biscuits, margarine, potato chips, and snack chips.
Drinking an adequate amount of pure water will help rid the body of toxins and mucous. Do not consume extremely cold foods (ice cream, slurries, frozen shakes or juice bars) since cold can shock the bronchi tubes into spasms.
Risks & Complications
- Allergens attack 3 ways: via direct inhalation of the particular allergen into our lungs (pollutants), through contact with our skin (irritants), or via ingestion (consuming allergic foods). Healing and prevention are important issues. Identify and avoid dietary and environmental factors that act as triggers.
- Acute episodes of asthma can be life-threatening (i.e. status asthmaticus) and requires immediate hospitalization.
- For people being pharmaceutically treated for high blood pressure, the Beta-blocking drugs (propranolol, nadolol, atenolol) used to treat hypertension can constrict the bronchial muscles and cause problems for people with asthma.
- If you take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) do so with caution. These drugs (including prescription anti-inflammatory drugs like Feldene, Naprosyn, Celebrex, Ibuprofen and Tolectin) account for two-thirds of the drug-related asthmatic reactions.
- Low thyroid function may be a significant factor in the rising incidence of asthma. It is important to see your physician if you suspect hypothyroidism, since taking thyroid medications has improved asthma symptoms in a number of patients.
- A study reported that women who use hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) have an 80 percent greater risk of asthma than never-users. HRT may worsen inflammation that leads to asthma. Although more women have osteoporosis and cardiovascular events in this age range, the potential effects on asthma should be a part of any HRT decision.
- VITAMIN C (with BIOFLAVONOIDS)
Supplementing with Vitamin C reduced the risk and symptoms of asthma in virtually all studies. The buffered form of Vitamin C seems to be extremely beneficial, especially in acute attacks. Vitamin C is anti-histaminic and anti-allergenic. Most importantly, it inhibits the release of mast cells which can induce an allergic “cascade” in the body. Quercetin, a bioflavonoid, is safe in children and enhances Vitamin C’s effectiveness, thus improving respiratory wellness. Dosage: Children 250-500 mg once or twice daily; Adults 1,000-10,000 mg daily. If you find that exercise can induce an asthma attack, try taking 1000-2000 mg of Vitamin C before a workout. It may decrease wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. If the patient has a renal or kidney-stone problems take a lower dose.NOTE: According to a study published in Respiratory Medicine (2006, Vol 100:174-179), supplementing with Vitamin C may help asthma sufferers reduce the amount of drugs (including inhaled medications) needed to control their disease.NOTE: Low antioxidant levels have been linked to asthma in children. Conversely, children with higher intakes of Vitamin C were 35 percent less likely than average to develop asthma.
This critical mineral is generally low in the American diet and in asthmatics. It is vital for increasing the capacity of the lungs and relaxes the bronchial tubes and the smooth muscles of the esophagus. Acute supplementation of magnesium may stop an acute asthmatic episode. According to a report by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2006, doi:10:), children suffering with asthma benefit from taking extra magnesium with fewer episodes and the need for less “rescue” medication. Magnesium improved children’s overall lung function, decreased airway hyperactivity, and improved their allergies. Dosage: Children 50-200 mg daily; Adults 125-800 mg daily. Excessive magnesium supplementation may cause loose stools. Decrease dose if the patient experiences diarrhea.
- MULTIPLE VITAMIN/MINERAL FORMULA with GREEN FOODS
Supplementing with a potent multi-vitamin/mineral formula is necessary for enhanced immune function. Use a high-potency formula that includes hypoallergenic supplements with added GREENS (spirulina, kale, blue-green algae, chlorella, wheat grass, etc). Greens are high in antioxidants and may destroy free radicals from air pollution and induce easier breathing. Dosage: As directed on label.
- EXTRA ANTIOXIDANTS
People with asthma may be deficient in various antioxidants. Many published works document specific inflammatory abnormalities in the airways of subjects with mild-to-moderate persistent bronchial asthma in which the inflammatory state is often associated with free-radical mediated reactions because of low antioxidant concentration in the subjects. Vitamin E (400-800 IU daily) induces lower serum IgE concentrations and lower sensitivity. Selenium (100mcg), Beta Carotene (Vitamin A) in doses (5-10,000 IU daily), Zinc (15-45 mg), and Lycopene may protect against exercise-induced asthma. Manganese (5-10 mg daily) is another antioxidant used effectively by asthmatics.
- OMEGA-3, 6 FATTY ACIDS
Omega-3 fatty acids, present especially in fish (Salmon) oil and also in flaxseed oil, produce a natural anti- inflammatory effect. Researchers found significantly fewer asthma symptoms among children taking fish oil. Only 10 percent of children do not respond favorably to fish oil supplementation. Flaxseed oil is a good alternative for patients who do not eat fish or are vegetarians. The omega-6 oils (Primrose and Borage) are good sources of Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) contributes important enzymes that reduce inflammation. Dosage: 1,000-3,000 mg daily.
- CALCIUM with VITAMIN D3 (CHOLECALCIFEROL)
Calcium is best used in combination with vitamin D3 and magnesium. Calcium may help to minimize inflammation associated with the disease. Use the chelated or citrate form of calcium (not carbonate) for better absorption and less constipation. Researchers have found that taking vitamin D3 supplements may enhance the response to steroid treatments among patients with asthma. Vitamin D3 improves the responsiveness of immune system T cells to steroids. Dosage: Calcium citrate 500-1,500 mg daily; Vitamin D3 for Adults 1,000-5,000 IU daily; Children 400-1,200 IU daily.
- B-COMPLEX VITAMINS
Asthmatics can be deficient in Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) which plays an essential role in the production of red blood cells and the cells of the immune system. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) may be added to improve antibodies. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) plays a key role in the body’s metabolic cycle for generating energy through the breakdown of carbohydrates, and the formation of red blood cells. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) helps metabolize fats, carbohydrates, and proteins for energy production. Vitamin B2 also helps to boost the immune system. Additional concentrations of Folic acid and Vitamin B12 may be useful. Dosage: 50-100 mg daily, or as directed by a qualified practitioner.
- GINKGO BILOBA
The herb ginkgo has long been used by the Chinese to treat asthma. It contains a chemical in the leaves (ginkgolides) that mediate worsen asthma and allergies symptoms by reducing bronchia constriction. Ginkgo increases blood supply to poorly vascularized areas, improves cellular utilization of oxygen, and helps to destroy free radicals. Dosage: 60-180 mg daily.
- PLANT STEROLS and STEROLINS
Plant sterols are the “fats” of plants, and may be effective in treating immune-compromised disorders. They stop certain immune cells from viewing allergens as invaders. Dosage: As directed on label.
- PROANTHOCYANIDINS (OPCs) (PYCNOGENOL and GRAPE SEED EXTRACT)
These are powerful antioxidants and free-radical scavengers. In controlled studies patients with severe asthma who took 100-200 mg of OPCs daily reported significant improvement in asthma symptom scores. Researchers studying asthmatic children concluded that pycnogenol at doses of 1 mg/lb of body weight taken for 3 months showed much greater improvements in lung function and asthma symptoms than members of the placebo group. Dosage: As directed by a qualified practitioner.
- BUTTERBUR ROOT and FEVERFEW
This root powder has been shown to improve lung function in patients with chronic asthma and chronic bronchitis (a condition of excessive mucous and cough). The extract is used successfully in Germany, as established in the German Commission E Report. Butterbur is manufactured under the name Petadolex. Both Butterbur and Feverfew have powerful plant chemicals called sesquiterpenes that inhibit inflammatory prostaglandins as well as histamine. Dosage: Butterbur for adults is 50 mg 3 times a day; children’s dosage was 50-100 mg daily. Feverfew 750 mg 1-2 times daily or as directed.
Licorice is an herb that exhibits anti-viral, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, and immune stimulant characteristics. Licorice slows the breakdown of corticosteroids, which may lesson prolong inflammation. Do not use for prolonged periods since it may induce high blood pressure. Dosage: As directed by an experienced practitioner.
- CAFFEINE in COFFEE and TEA
Caffeine is chemically related to the asthma drug Theophylline. This naturally-derived drug was one of the first pharmaceutical drugs used to treat asthma more than 50 years ago. Caffeine also may improve lung function and prevent exercise-induced bronchial constriction. Dosage: 7 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight.
- EASTERN HERBS
Turmeric (Curcuma) promotes anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antioxidant and anti-tumor activity. It may aid in the control of asthma. Astragalus is an immune tonic used for centuries. Echinacea is an immune stimulant. Mullin is an anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory herb. Boswellia has a potent anti-inflammatory effect and has been successful used in arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Rosemary contains volatile oils that have been shown to relax the smooth muscles of the trachea. Other Eastern herbs include Sage, Chamomile and Nettles. Dosage: See individual package for dosage or contact an experienced practitioner.
- COLEUS FORSKOHLII
Research has demonstrated that aerosolizing with dry Forskolin powder results in significant relaxation of bronchial muscles and relief of asthma symptoms. Dosage: As directed on label.
- CAYENNE PEPPER
Cayenne pepper is an herb that stimulates the secretion of saliva and thins mucous plugs. It can warm the body and reduce edema caused by respiratory irritants. Dosage: As directed on label.
- N-ACETYL CYSTEINE
This antioxidant increases glutathione levels (important for immune function) and helps to thin bronchial mucous. Dosage: 200-500 mg 2-3 times a day.
- RESCUE REMEDY (homeopathic).
Effective Ways To Stop An Attack
- Drink tea or coffee. At the onset of an attack, drink a cup of hot green or black tea. These substances, as well as coffee, contain small amounts of theophylline which can relax the bronchial tubes.
- Breathe correctly. The Alexander technique tells you to breath slowly, focus your breathing, and maximize oxygen intake during the attack. Do not gulp air. Repeat this breathing cycle 10 times until symptoms abate. The problem is not that you can’t take in enough air it’s that you can’t expel enough. Inhale through the nose; exhale through the mouth. Practice yoga-style breathing.
- Take extra Vitamin C. In my own experience, when a child or adult is having the onset of an acute asthma attack, taking a big scoop of Vitamin C powder (a few thousand mg) may save a trip to the emergency room.
- Try to stay fit and in shape. The most important thing for anyone with asthma is to remain physically active. Control your weight gain; it makes breathing harder. Practice swimming, weight training, and vigorous walking several times a week.
- Eliminate known allergens in your home. Eliminate all potential allergens in your living space. Be cognizant that seasonal allergies exist. 80 percent of asthmatics have allergic reactions to food or their environment.
- Reduce swelling. Supplement daily with Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin C to help reduce the inflammation that may constrict bronchial tubes. Take your medication as directed.
- Ease stress. Anxiety, tension and emotional outbursts can triple the risk of developing an asthmatic attack. Asthmatics breathe 3 times faster than normal people. Aromatherapy may help.
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