ASTHMA, OR more correctly, bronchial asthma, is a common and chronic inflammatory disease involving the air passages of the lungs. The symptoms are variable and recurring and include wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness.
As our environment becomes more polluted, worldwide the number of people suffering from asthma has increased. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, more than eight per cent of Americans have the disease, with black children being the most affected group.
Modern medicine offers a wide assortment of drugs to treat asthma. They are administered orally as tablets or liquids; by inhalation as sprays, pumps, or nebulisers; or by injection. Much of this approach centres around treating the symptoms of the problem, or at best, reducing the frequency of the episodes.
At its core, bronchial asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the respiratory tract reflecting a dysfunction of the body's immune system responses.
Recent research suggests that more and more sufferers from asthma are turning to complementary and alternative treatments in an effort to address the underlying causes of the problem and not just treat the symptoms.
Complementary approaches to asthma range from nutrition, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and breathing exercises to psychological therapies, acupuncture, and homeopathy. These may often reduce or eliminate the need for medication, but it is important to discuss this with your doctor.
Watch your diet
As in 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-containing foods, food preservatives, and additives. Identify all foods that may trigger an attack and avoid them. Moderate your intake of sugar and salt.
Increase your intake of antioxidant rich foods like vegetables and fresh fruit, especially berries. People with severe asthma 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 vitamin and mineral supplements
In addition to eating a varied diet rich in fresh, unprocessed foods, taking a high-quality multivitamin/mineral tablet to supplement each meal also helps to provide the nutrients that the body needs for optimal health.
Antioxidants. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, and A are especially useful in asthma as they boost the immune system and reduce the inflammation caused by free radicals. Vitamin C in particular is recommended in high doses (three to six gm) daily. As this vitamin is water soluble and is quickly eliminated from the body, it is best to divide up your daily dose, taking some at each meal time .
Omega-3 fatty acids. Found in the highest concentration in fish oils, omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory and help reduce the inflammation that produces the symptoms of asthma.
Epidemiological studies show that a diet high in marine fatty acids (fish oil) has beneficial effects on many inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. The effective dose of omega-3s is three gm or more daily. When using fish oil, it is its omega-3 content that is critical. 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 and is very useful in relieving the spasm of the muscles of the airways that occur in asthma. Holistic physicians often use magnesium given by intravenous injection to abort and prevent asthmatic attacks. One particularly effective treatment is called a Myers Cocktail, which involves a combination of magnesium, vitamin C, and other vitamins administered intravenously by a doctor.
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.
Vitamin D. A number of individuals with asthma have a vitamin D deficiency, and adequate levels of vitamin D are critical for a healthy immune system. Research suggests that increasing levels of vitamin D may reduce asthma symptoms. You should optimise your vitamin D status by having a daily sunbath and/or take vitamin D3 supplements regularly.
Clean the environment
Not only do asthmatics need to clean up their diet, but they 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 odours, animal dander (hairs and fir) all can trigger asthma and should be avoided as much as possible.
Use breathing exercises:
Breathing techniques for asthma vary, but generally 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 include advice about stress reduction, nutrition, and general health.
Acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago and involves the insertion of very thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body. Some studies show that asthma symptoms may improve with acupuncture, and when delivered by trained practitioners, it is a very low-risk procedure. If you choose to use acupuncture, work with an experienced acupuncturist or a medical doctor who practises acupuncture.
Herbal remedies have been used for centuries to treat lung problems 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 one herb taken on its own. Some herbal remedies can interact with other medications, so inform your doctor if you choose to use both.
Homeopathy seeks to stimulate 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. While it is yet unproven that these techniques directly treat asthma, they reduce stress, relieve the symptoms, and promote a sense of well-being. In psychogenic asthma (emotionally induced asthma), these techniques may actually cure the problem.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at email@example.com or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book, 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women', is available locally and on the Internet.