Tony Vendryes | Alternative treatments for asthma
Asthma, or more correctly, bronchial asthma is a common inflammatory disease that affects the air passages of the lungs. The symptoms are variable and include episodes of wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness.
With increasing environmental pollution, the number of people suffering from asthma worldwide has increased. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, more than eight per cent of Americans have the disease, with black children being the most affected group.
Modern medicine treats asthma with a wide assortment of drugs. They are administered orally as tablets or liquids, by inhalation as sprays, pumps or nebulisers, or by injection. Much of this approach centres on treating the symptoms of the problem or, at best, reducing the frequency of the episodes.
Asthma is an inflammatory disorder reflecting a disturbance of the body's immune system. Research suggests that sufferers from asthma are turning to alternative treatments more frequently in an effort to address the underlying causes of the problem and not just treat the symptoms.
Complementary approaches to asthma range from dietary changes, vitamins, minerals, herbs and breathing exercises to psychological therapies, acupuncture and homeopathy. These may reduce or eliminate the need for medication, but it is important to discuss this with your doctor.
CLEAN UP YOUR DIET
As with any inflammatory problem, diet is extremely important to the asthmatic and the following principles should be observed:
- Avoid foods that irritate the immune system, like dairy products, wheat, preservatives and additives. Identify all foods that may trigger an attack and avoid them. Moderate your intake of sugar and salt.
- Have more antioxidant-rich foods like vegetables and fresh fruit, especially berries. Asthmatics often have low levels of these protective nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Drink more clean water, natural fruit and vegetable juices, herbal teas and coconut water.
TAKE VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Supplement your diet with a high-quality multivitamin/mineral tablet. Add antioxidants like vitamin C, E, A and selenium as they boost the immune system and reduce the inflammation. Vitamin C in high doses (three to six-grams.) daily is particularly useful. As this vitamin is quickly eliminated from the body, it is best to divide up your daily dose.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in the highest concentration in fish oils are anti-inflammatory and help reduce the symptoms of asthma. Epidemiological studies show that a diet high in fish oil benefits inflammatory conditions like asthma. The effective dose of omega-3is three grams or more daily. Capsules with highly concentrated omega-3 fats are more potent than just fish oil.
Magnesium: This mineral is extremely important in asthma, as it is a natural muscle relaxant that relieves the spasm of the airways that occur in asthma. Many asthmatics are magnesium-deficient and should consume magnesium-rich foods as well as take magnesium supplements. Chelated magnesium capsules such as magnesium aspartate, citrate or oratate are better absorbed than magnesium oxide or chloride. I also recommend soaking in an Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) bath.
Holistic physicians often give magnesium by intravenous injection to abort and prevent asthmatic attacks. One particularly effective treatment is called a Myers Cocktail that involves a combination of magnesium, vitamin C and other vitamins administered intravenously by a doctor.
Vitamin D: Many individuals with asthma are vitamin-D deficient and this vitamin is critical for a healthy immune system. Research suggests that increasing vitamin D levels may reduce asthma symptoms. Optimise your vitamin D status by having a daily sunbath and/or take vitamin D3 supplements regularly.
CLEAN UP THE ENVIRONMENT
Asthmatics also need to optimise the cleanliness of the air they breathe. Air-borne pollutants abound in the modern home and workplace. House dust, smoke, chemical sprays and odors, animal dander (hairs and fur) - all can trigger asthma and should be avoided as much as possible.
USE BREATHING EXERCISES
Breathing techniques are used for asthma, but general they involve learning to take slower, longer breaths, to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth, and to use your abdominal muscles to take deep 'belly breaths'.
Two specific breathing techniques for asthma include the Buteyko breathing technique and yoga breathing exercises (pranayama). In a number of studies, people who did such breathing exercises reported improvement in their symptoms. These methods also emphasise stress reduction and good nutrition.
Acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago and involves the insertion of very thin needles into your skin at specific points on your body. Some studies show that asthma improves with acupuncture and is very safe when delivered by trained practitioners. This suggests working with an experienced acupuncturist or a medical doctor who practises acupuncture.
Herbal remedies have been used for centuries and are still a primary asthma treatment in many countries. Herbs used in treating asthma include ephedra, green tea, ginger, schizandra, rosemary, pycnogenol, boswellia, aloe vera and ginkgo biloba. All these herbs have definite anti-inflammatory properties.
Blends of different types of herbs are commonly used in traditional Chinese, Indian and Japanese medicine, as certain combinations of herbs may be more effective than a single herb. Some herbal remedies can interact with prescription medications, so inform your doctor if you choose to use both.
Homeopathy stimulates the body's self-healing ability using very small doses of substances that would cause the problem. For asthma, homeopathic remedies are made from substances that generally trigger an asthmatic reaction, such as pollen or weeds, but in such tiny amounts that they prevent rather than cause an asthma attack.
Relaxation therapy techniques include meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques help asthma by reducing stress, relieving the symptoms and promoting a sense of well-being. In psychogenic asthma (emotionally induced asthma), these methods may cure the problem.