~ Natural Approaches to Treating Asthma

Asthma, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a reversible airway obstruction not caused by any other disease. It is characterized by an increased responsiveness of the airways (i.e., the bronchial tubes close). With proper care, there is no need for asthma to become a permanent debilitating condition.

The common symptoms of asthma include difficulty in breathing, coughing, wheezing, and the use of accessory muscles to facilitate breathing; apprehension; fast heart rate (up to 120 beats a minute); flared nostrils and increased symptoms of respiratory distress. Serious attacks include a feeling of tightness in the chest with thick and tenacious production of mucus. The underlying mechanisms, which bring about the sudden attacks of wheezing, are not fully understood.

Asthma affects approximately 4% of the American population (about 9 million people) with up to 7% of Americans experiencing asthma at one time or another during their lifetimes. Asthma occurs most frequently in children and young adults, and fortunately, 50 to 70% of children outgrow the disease. Asthma is the most common cause of school absence and hospital admission in children.

Factors that have been confirmed to contribute to asthma are genetic predisposition, viral respiratory infection, emotional upset, inhalation of cold air, fumes from fresh paint, tobacco smoke, chemicals, and other airborne irritants. The exposure to specific allergens (foods, liquids, or fabrics), and such nonspecific factors as change in temperature can also cause symptoms. A family history of asthma or allergies, such as eczema, appears in about half of all asthmatics.

Asthma is divided into two broad categories:

Extrinsic or allergic asthma is brought on when the person comes in contact with allergens-airborne pollens and molds, animal danders, foods, drugs, and house dust. These symptoms are IgE mediated: IgE or immunoglobulin E is an antibody produced by the cells lining the respiratory and intestinal tracts. In asthmatics, when an allergen enters the respiratory tract, an allergen-IgE antibody reaction takes place. This leads to the allergic reaction. As a result, mast cells will secrete "slow- releasing anaphylaxis substance" (SRS-A) and other inflammatory compounds. SRS-A causes spasms of bronchiole tubes. From 10 to 20% of the adult asthmatic population is affected by this category of asthma.

Intrinsic asthma. This type of asthma occurs in people who have not been identified by medical history or by tests as having and suffering from allergies. The precipitating causes may be, for example, infections, irritants, or emotional factors.

Status asthma describes a prolonged and potentially dangerous attack of very severe asthma.

Biological Overview

Asthma usually produces three sets of physical changes:

1. Bronchial spasms may develop to the point where considerable obstruction occurs in the airway.

2. Irritated bronchial walls become inflamed and swell, causing the airway to narrow further.

3. The mucus glands of the patient produce a thick, tenacious mucus. These physical changes can lead to hyperinflation of the lungs simply because inhaling is easier than exhaling. For most patients, the short period of time necessary for air exchange problems and increasingly labored respiration to develop is offset by a short and spontaneous recovery as symptoms disappear in a matter of minutes.

Asthma seems to be created by an imbalance in the relative functions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems as they relate to the lungs. The sympathetic nervous system is stimulated by two important adrenal-gland secretions, epinephrine and norepinephrine. The adrenal system is often deficient in asthma patients. Normally, these hormones calm mast cell inflammatory response and relax bronchial muscles. In this case, however, the parasympathetic nervous system, via the vagus nerve, has an opposite action. The parasympathetic nervous system, often overactive in asthma patients, stimulates inflammation and bronchial constriction, thereby aggravating this condition.

Balance must be restored by means of proper adrenal-gland functioning. Subclinical adrenal- gland deficiency generally is not recognized by the medical profession. Yet this is frequently an underlying cause of asthma.


Certain foods can trigger an asthmatic attack, particularly in children. Cow's milk, yeast, cheese, fish, nuts, chocolate, wheat, eggs, shellfish, tomatoes, and other foods of the nightshade family (for example, eggplants and potatoes) are potential offenders. High-salicylate foods can aggravate 10 to 20% of asthmatics. Aspirin, food colorings, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) can also initiate an episode. Avoid processed and salted foods as much as possible.

Flaxseed and linseed oils, and salmon, if tolerated, are rich in essential fatty acids. These can be useful long-term promoters of bronchial relaxation. Red meat can have the opposite effect, stimulating constriction. Therefore it should be eaten no more than once or twice a week.

For children and adults using steroids recently or for a period of time, there are special nutritional considerations. In particular, these patients will need to balance their blood sugar, keep their potassium levels up, and reduce their salt intake. Small frequent meals and protein snacks (beans, chicken, turkey) can be helpful. Most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are high-potassium foods, especially avocados, carrots (best taken in the high-potency form of carrot juice), and bananas. Mineral repletion may be necessary, as corticosteroids deplete the body of calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

Vitamin-Mineral-Amino Acid Therapeutics

Most asthmatics are not aware of the many published studies showing that high-potency vitamin supplements induce a reduction in the incidence and severity of asthmatic attacks.

These studies also show that high dietary magnesium intake is associated with improvement in lung function, less wheezing, and fewer asthma attacks. Asthmatics should consider taking an additional 1000 mg a day or more of elemental magnesium.

Histamine is a major factor in asthmatic attacks, and vitamin C is involved in the natural destruction of excess histamine.

Asthmatics should take at least two 600mg capsules of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) a day, along with 2 grams or more of vitamin C, to break up mucus that could worsen an asthma attack.

Buffered vitamin C, 500 to 1000 mg taken at bedtime, seems to lessen or prevent the asthma attacks that occur around 4 a.m., according to Carmen Fusco. Sublingual DMG before vigorous activity, vitamins B6 and B12, and citrus bioflavonoids also prove helpful, she adds.

In addition to C.O.P.D. recommendations, take the following:

Vitamin B6 is specifically helpful for asthma, presumably by catalyzing neurohormonal mediator response in lung tissues, and also useful in counteracting MSG poisoning.

Pantothenic acid is an excellent promoter of adrenal hormone production-epinephrine and norepinephrine. Pantothenic acid strengthens the sinus tissues and has an antihistaminic action.

Vitamin C stimulates antihistamine response. When used with B-complex, the balanced production of epinephrine and norepinephrine will reduce bronchial constriction. Vitamin C strengthens the adrenals and therefore is essential, especially if steroids have been or are in use by the patient.

Folic acid works with tyrosine to reduce bronchial constriction through activation of norepinephrine and epinephrine.

L-tyrosine stimulates production of epinephrine and norepinephrine, thereby helping to prevent bronchial constriction.

Perilla or flaxseed oils stimulate production of prostaglandin E1, which dilates the bronchioles and calms inflammation. These oils may also stabilize the mast cells.

Hydrochloric acid and/or pancreatin are most useful if asthma attacks are related to food sensitivity. These help break down food proteins most completely, thereby minimizing allergic reactions.

Bioflavonoids are potent antihistamines.

Asthmatics can improve their health and suppress their asthma by careful elimination testing to learn their asthma "triggers," by improving their surroundings (home and work environment), and by applying this information to adopt a different lifestyle to minimize the potential for asthma attacks. Particular care should be taken to avoid any foods that are known to cause an allergic reaction possibly triggering an asthma attack. A goal of reducing the need for prescription drugs by developing a plan to substitute nutritional supplements should be undertaken with the assistance of a qualified physician. Meditation techniques offer a simple, effective method of circumventing an asthma attack before it begins or reducing symptoms during an asthmatic episode.

With careful elimination testing under the care of a physician, a workable combination of botanicals and nutritional supplements can be developed that will support a better control of asthma. A physician must carefully monitor any prescription-drug elimination technique.

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