Managing Asthma Naturally
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by trouble breathing. The primary issue is a narrowing and inflammation of the airways leading to the lungs. It tends to occur quickly in response to triggers that affect the immune system and airways; this reaction is called having an “attack”. The nose, mouth, larynx, and nasal passages are typically affected. In addition to several medications that are used to remedy this condition, there are also several ways of managing asthma naturally.
About 34 million Americans, including seven to eight million children, are affected by this chronic condition. Measured in missed school days (12.8 million of them) and work days (10.1 million of them) per year, asthma is a costly condition. Medical costs, prescription medications, and lost productivity amount to $14.7 billion every year. This cost leads many people to seek ways of managing asthma naturally.
Some Causes of Asthma
There are a lot of theories on what causes asthma. A couple of the primary causes are toxins and irritants. Contributing factors may include genetic tendencies, high levels of stress, poor nutrition, pollution, autoimmune disorders, other medical conditions that affect the lungs, and too many antibiotics.
About 15% of asthma cases for adults appear to be brought on by what is called “occupational asthma,” stemming from exposure to dust, debris, and chemicals at work.
Some researchers argue that the Western lifestyle, including a poor quality diet and high levels of stress, may lead to greater sensitivity to the triggers for asthma. The inflammatory, low nutrient diet seems to be a primary factor. Countries in Asia and Africa rarely report asthma as a serious problem.
When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles around the bronchial tubes constrict, restricting air flow. These muscles are controlled by nerves. What causes the nerves to stimulate the muscles in this way isn’t always known. Allergens, emotional stresses, exercise, and respiratory infection are all possibilities. Asthma is now classified as an inflammatory condition.
Risk Factors for Developing Asthma
Staying indoors is one of the risk factors for developing asthma. This reduces a person’s ability to develop a strong immune system and greatly increases exposure to allergens and irritants. Indoors is a great place for accumulation of dust mites, molds, pet dander, and other microbes that can trigger asthma attacks.
A sedentary lifestyle is another risk factor. Not being physically active takes a toll on the immune system and increases the likelihood of exposure to a triggering substance.
Health conditions that affect the strength of the immune system and the lungs are risk factors, as well. Some childhood infections affect the lungs and bring on inflammation and a narrowing of the airways.
Research indicates genetics play a part in the development of asthma, although the condition is not completely inherited.
Poor posture that prevents the lungs from functioning optimally may be a risk factor.
Toxins in the environment can also be a risk factor for asthma. These toxins come from a variety of sources, mostly related to the construction of buildings.
The Hygiene Hypothesis
One of the more recent theories regarding why there is such a current epidemic of allergies and asthma is called the “hygiene hypothesis.” It has been offered as an explanation of why children in less developed countries don’t typically develop asthma, while those in more developed countries do.
Primarily, this hypothesis holds that too much hygiene in more developed countries leads to asthma. Children in less developed countries play outside more and are exposed at an early age to pathogens and microbes. This allows their immune systems to develop antibodies to deal with them. Children in more developed countries live in a more sterile environment, and their immune systems don’t develop these antibodies. This makes them more susceptible to pathogens and microbes later in life.
While this is an intriguing possibility, research has focused thus far on rat subjects. Until far more is done with human subjects, this remains a hypothesis.
Conventional Remediation Efforts in Asthma
Currently, physicians attempt to control the symptoms of asthma using anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, bronchodilators, and anti-IgE medications to open airways quickly and prevent any complications. These are powerful medications and, like all medications, have some serious side effects. Some research has indicated these medications can change children’s genes and may actually increase the chances of an asthma attack by up to 30%.
This is why the possibility of managing asthma naturally is so appealing.
There are two goals for conventional asthma remediation. One is to stop symptoms quickly when there may be a life or death component. The other is a long-term, preventative approach to remediation.
Conventional medications may be the best approach for acute attacks, when your life is at risk. Bronchodilating medications are used for acute attacks, but it can cause anxiety. Theophylline has long been used for acute attacks, but it can cause personality changes. Other medications of this class are used to alleviate acute attacks, but many can be addictive. This is because the bronchial tubes typically become constricted again once the dose wears off.
Some inhalers contain steroids. They can be effective and relatively safe if the steroids are not absorbed into the system. Some newer versions, such as fluticasone and budesonide, appear to be safe. These inhalers should always be used right after using a bronchodilator.
Long-term prevention appears to be more problematic. Prednisone, a commonly-used oral steroid, and other oral steroids can lead to addiction. Long-term use of oral steroids brings on unwanted side effects and complications. It is best to get off these medications as quickly as possible or avoid starting them. Conventional medications tend to suppress symptoms and may reduce the chances of asthma going away on its own.
Surprisingly, the medications that are used to deal with acute asthma attacks may lead to worsening of the symptoms over time. The side effects of most of these medications have a detrimental effect on the endocrine and immune systems. Some research shows these medications may have a long-term effect on the immune system that actually makes asthma attacks more frequent. They appear to increase related problems such as weight gain, acne, yeast growth, and mood swings.
Preventive steroids also appear to decrease the immune system much sooner than previously thought. Research has indicated that a single dose of steroids can bring on permanent effects.
However, if you have severe asthma, it is not recommended to go off of your medications. These medications, especially ones used in an emergency, have tremendous benefit and can save lives. Check with your primary medical doctor before stopping any medications.
Asthma, AFS, and the NEM Stress Response
Conventional remedial efforts in asthma appear to lead to issues that directly affect Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Both short and long-term detrimental consequences to the immune system can lead to further complications with AFS.
When the body is exposed to stress, which is one of the triggers for asthma, a cascade of hormones and other biochemicals begins. At the end of this cascade lie the adrenal glands. Stress causes them to release cortisol to fight the effects of the stress. With continuing stress from any source, including asthma and the medications used to deal with it, the adrenals become depleted, unable to release sufficient cortisol. This leads to more and more symptoms of AFS developing. Among them is increased inflammation, one of the hallmarks of asthma.
Conventional remediation efforts for asthma focus primarily on controlling the symptoms, both short and long-term. This is a common perspective for conventionally trained physicians. A wiser approach to managing asthma naturally is to adopt the more comprehensive approach called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. This viewpoint looks at conditions from an interrelated systems standpoint. There are six of these organ systems in the body. Each one plays a part in the way stress from any source affects a person. Whatever affects one of these organ systems will also affect one or more of the others. Understanding this interrelationship allows healthcare professionals to make a more complete assessment of what is bothering you.
Managing Asthma Naturally
Many conventional healthcare professionals don’t seem to put much stock in managing asthma naturally. And the conventional wisdom regarding remediation of acute asthma attacks may be very accurate. When an acute attack occurs, quick-acting medications appear to be best. Medication is best used in these situations
For long-term preventive control, however, there are numerous approaches to managing asthma naturally. Even the most conservative traditional healthcare professionals acknowledge that natural ways of relieving stress, one of the triggers of asthma attacks, work well. Deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and biofeedback all help in alleviating stress.
It’s important to keep in mind that a healthy body can fight off pathogens and get rid of environmental toxins, which also decreases the likelihood of an asthma attack. Keeping your body healthy requires good nutrition and sufficient exercise, along with decreased stress levels.
Foods Used To Deal With Asthma
One of the ways of managing asthma naturally is through diet. A healthy diet that supplies antioxidants and other important nutrients can reduce toxins absorbed from food, aid in controlling inflammation, and reduce dietary triggers.
Foods that contain carotenoids can help reduce asthma attacks. These are the foods that are orange or red in color. Carotenoids are the foundation for the production of vitamin A. This vitamin helps in maintaining a healthy mucous lining of the airways. A lack of vitamin A is associated with more severe asthma attacks. Research has shown people with a tendency to have asthma have lower levels of circulating carotenoids in their blood serum.
Foods high in folate, vitamin B9, may help reduce allergic reactions and inflammation. They may also help reduce the wheezing in asthma by lowering inflammation levels. Foods such as leafy green vegetables, nuts, and beans are high in folate.
Foods high in vitamin E and C are powerful antioxidants. Vitamin C aids in detoxification of the body. This may reduce wheezing and inflammation. Leafy greens, citrus fruits, berries, and cruciferous vegetables are the kinds of foods to eat to increase vitamin C. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant typically found in nuts, healthy plant oils, and seeds.
Low levels of magnesium may lead to increased likelihood of developing asthma. Research has shown magnesium aids in the relaxation of bronchial smooth muscles. This increases the airflow into and out of the lungs. Foods such as greens, beans, nuts, seeds, cocoa, and some ancient grains contain good levels of magnesium.
Research has shown a compound called sulforaphane to be valuable in increasing a large range of antioxidant enzymes. Foods such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables contain antioxidants and sulforaphane. The compound appears to block the effects of air pollution. It also may help protect against inflammation and thus be a viable way to deal with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Garlic, onions, and mustard seeds contain quercetin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory. They also are natural antimicrobials that fight bacterial infections and help in increasing the effectiveness of the immune system.
Foods to Avoid
Processed and refined foods are best avoided if you have asthma. These kinds of foods have little nutritional value and lead to stress on the body. It’s more difficult for the body to detox itself if these kinds of foods make up your diet. Avoiding these types of foods is another way of managing asthma naturally.
Eating foods fried in refined vegetable oils and eating hydrogenated fats increases the chances of children developing asthma. Free radicals in the body are increased by consuming these trans fats.
The commonly used powdered and pasteurized infant formulas that so many children consume through bottle-feeding tend to increase the incidence of developing asthma compared to the incidence in children who are breastfed.
Overgrowth of yeast and Candida albicans occur more frequently with the consumption of processed foods because of the high concentration of sugars in those foods. Yeast itself can be a trigger for acute asthma attacks.
Food preservatives and colorings used in processed foods can act as triggers for acute asthma attacks, also. Allergies to foods are triggers as well. Sometimes, the types of foods which bring on these allergies are hidden in processed and refined foods.
Animal products that have been treated with antibiotics and hormones, as well as farm-raised fish have also been linked to greater risk of developing or exacerbating asthma.
Supplements Used in Dealing with Asthma
In spite of the conventional medical wisdom that disregards the efficacy of supplements, there are some that appear to have beneficial effects on people who suffer from asthma.
Vitamin D aids in supporting lung function and immune health. “Lung remodeling,” or the physical narrowing of the airways over time, is also positively affected by this vitamin. Research with both children and adults with mild to moderate asthma showed vitamin D supplements reduced the frequency of severe asthma attacks, reduced the need for oral steroids, and lowered the risk of hospitalization for severe asthma attacks.
Vitamin C works to boost the immune system and reduces inflammation.
The B vitamins support immune health and may reduce antihistamine levels and wheezing.
Zinc aids in the body’s response to stress, one of the triggers of acute asthma attacks.
Magnesium aids in the reduction of severe asthma attacks and may help relieve stress.
Quercetin and bromelain have an anti-histaminic action that can help reduce inflammation.
With stress as one of the major triggers of acute asthma attacks, learning to deal with the stress that is always present in our culture is a significant path to managing asthma naturally.
Deep breathing is one excellent way to handle stress and helps with managing asthma naturally. Getting more oxygen into your lungs will lower the effects of stress.
Deep muscle relaxation and imagery are two more stress relievers that are easy to learn and gain in effectiveness as you use them.
Staying calm and centered is an important aspect in keeping your body healthy so you can fight off illness, detox as needed, keep inflammation low, and avoid asthma.
© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Is managing asthma naturally the best overall approach?
For long-term safety and effectiveness, managing asthma naturally is the best approach. There are fewer long-term detrimental effects on the immune system and endocrine system. However, for acute asthma attacks, conventional medical approaches appear to be more effective when lives are at risk.