Breath. It is life itself. When breathing is difficult, we suffer.
The number of people with asthma is on the rise. This is especially true for children.
Currently, 23 million Americans (or around 8 percent of the population) are diagnosed with asthma.
Asthma typically begins in childhood or adolescence, but it has also been known to first appear in adults. Asthma is a condition where the bronchi (small air tubes) inside the lungs become hyper-responsive to stimuli and contract or spasm. This spasm, along with airway swelling and mucus, makes it difficult for the person experiencing an asthma attack to breathe.
Asthma typically runs in families, although it tends to occur in people with a family history of so-called atopic conditions which includes asthma, eczema, hay fever, and other allergies.
Symptoms of asthma include nighttime breathlessness, tight chest, coughing. An asthmatic episode can be the result of an irritant (such as exposure to cold air) or to an allergen (such as dust mites or animal dander) or can occur following exercise.
Asthma is more than just an inconvenience and accounts for around 4,000 deaths each year. Asthma tends to be more severe in certain populations: For example, Black people have a 200 percent higher death rate than non-Hispanic whites and females have a 45 percent higher death rate than males.1
Asthma is generally recognized as an inflammatory condition.2 On a cellular level, mast cells (immune cells) respond to an allergen by releasing substances that cause the bronchial muscles to contract. At the same time the mast cells stimulate mucus formation. These cells also release the chemicals histamine and leukotrienes which summon other white blood cells (eosinophils, macrophage, fibroblasts and neutrophils) to the area and perpetuate the inflammatory response.
When inflammation runs rampant, cortisol is elevated, and if it remains elevated for long periods of time the HPA glands which produce cortisol will be exhausted and cortisol output will suffer. Under this circumstance, inflammation goes unchecked and symptoms escalate. It is a vicious cycle. These points underscore the importance of healthy HPA gland/hormone function.
The most common triggers for an asthma attack are:
- Air pollutants
- Animal dander
- Cockroach allergens
- Dust mites
- Fungi (molds) that grow indoors
- Occupational allergens such as chemicals, fumes, particles of industrial materials
- Tree, grass, and weed pollen
- Strong odors, such as from perfume
- Tobacco or wood
In addition, there are three other non-allergen common triggers:
- Inhaling cold air
- Stress or a high level of anxiety
The “hygiene hypothesis” is one of the theories for the increase in the number of cases of asthma. The theory states that our hygienic practices (how clean we are) have largely prevented children from having infections when they are young. The theory suggests that avoiding infections when we are young creates an immune system that is over-reactive and too responsive to allergens such as pollens and pet dander.
What to do about Asthma
The best way to treat asthma is to avoid the triggers. This, however, is often easier said than done. Here are some tips for avoiding airborne allergies:
- If your triggers are pollens then you should try and stay indoors during when pollen counts are high, keep windows up while driving, and use a face mask if necessary. Take a shower soon after arriving back home.
- If your problem is indoor triggers, then you should be cleaning your house often, avoiding harsh cleaners, vacuuming often, and removing any mold in your house. Whole-house air filters will also help.
- If pets are the problem, avoid petting them, but wash your hands if you do. Keep pets out of sleeping areas and bathe them often.
There are some big questions about standard medical treatments for asthma and if it is actually helping or hurting.
- Steroid medications have many well-known side effects; they are especially disruptive to the hormonal system.
- A 1992 report in the New England Journal of Medicine reported a more than two times risk for dying for asthmatics using beta-agonists than those who did not use beta-agonists.3
- A 1989 study found that asthma was more common among the very people who were exposed to the medication: respiratory therapists.4
Despite these concerns, the following are typical asthma medications:
- Short-Acting Beta-2 Agonists: These drugs relax the bronchial tubes by relaxing the muscles that control the bronchial tubes. These medications act quickly, but only last for a few hours. There are also longer-acting Beta-2 Agonists. Side effects include: Coughing, heart palpitations, headaches, muscle or bone pain, nausea, nervousness, shakiness (tremors), insomnia, throat irritation, upper respiratory tract infections.
- Anticholinergics: These mediators also relax the muscles around the bronchial tubes and they suppress mucus production. They don’t act as fast as the Beta-2-Agonists, but last longer. Side effects include: Dry mouth, blurred vision, tachycardia, urine retention, constipation, memory impairment.
- Leukotriene Modifiers: These medications modify the leukotrienes that are released by mast cells and tend to be used only in mild asthma. Side effects include: Headache, nausea, abdominal pain, indigestion
- Mast Cell Stabilizers: Cromolyn® and Nedocromil® work to prevent mast cells from releasing histamine, leukotrienes and other pro-inflammatory chemicals. They take a while to take effect (3-4 weeks). Side effects include: Sore throat or dry throat, bad taste in mouth, wheezing, nausea, cough, nasal congestion, sneezing.
- Steroids: These are the strongest anti-asthma medications and resemble natural hormones. Steroids block inflammation. The side-effects include stomach bleeding, loss of calcium from bones, cataracts, and the potential to develop diabetes. Other side-effects include poor wound healing, weight gain and mental problems.
Integrative Approaches to Asthma
- Diet: Many complementary providers see food allergies playing a role in asthma. Many recommend a diet with special attention to avoiding sugars, foods with artificial additives (especially sulfites) and a diet high in fruits and vegetables. A 1985 Swedish study showed that a vegan diet reduced the use of medications in 92 percent of patients who followed the diet for a year.5
- Water: Drinking water seems like a simplistic suggestion, but it is especially important for people with asthma as water helps to keep the passages of the lungs moist. Get the best drinking water by using filtration and enhancement.
- Quercetin: This bioflavonoid is a natural mast cell stabilizer and inhibits the release of histamine; taken with bromelain increases its absorption.6 You’ll find this ingredient and others in Support Mucosa.
- Omega 3: Fish oils have been shown to reduce inflammation and help with asthma.7
- Stinging Nettle: This herb is also a natural antihistamine and works well for allergic conditions. See Natural d-Hist.8
- Exercise: While exercise can make asthma worse, it is also has been shown to benefit people with asthma.9
- HPA Hormone Balancing: When the HPA glands are performing at their best, the symptoms of asthma and frequency of attacks may be drastically reduced. With saliva based lab tests that measure cortisol and DHEA patterns, natural therapies for hormone balance can be developed. Get tested.