By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

How much do you know about asthma? It seems that if we don’t suffer with it ourselves, most of us at least know someone who does. Is it contagious? Does it run in families? Can victims exercise and live normal lives? Is there a cure? Can I do anything to prevent getting asthma? These are all good questions. Let’s take a look at this disease and see if we can get a basic understanding of what it is, how it affects the health of its sufferers and what we can do to fight against it.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic long-term lung disease that causes victims to have difficulty breathing. The airways or breathing passages of the lungs become over-sensitive to various triggers that cause them to get swollen and inflamed, thereby limiting their ability to transport air. The formation of mucous may be a problem as well, further reducing the functionality of the airways. Often the muscles controlling the breathing passages will go into spasm, causing them to constrict and allowing even less air and oxygen to pass through. Our respiratory system is composed of a system of bronchial tubes that branch out like a tree, getting increasingly narrower as they get farther from the mouth and nose and closer to the lungs. This system of bronchial tubes is where the attack is concentrated in the asthmatic person, causing them to wheeze, cough, and experience shortness of breath. With chronic, repeated attacks over time, a condition known as “airway remodeling” can occur, which is basically irreversible narrowing of the bronchial tubes.

It is estimated that at least 24 million Americans alone suffer from this disease, and it plays no favorites with any race or nationality. It is not contagious–you cannot “catch” asthma from someone who has it. There is no known cure, but it can be controlled and managed well for many folks. With proper care, many asthmatics are able to lead healthy, active lives. However, asthma is a very serious condition, and can be deadly in some cases. 287 fatalities were reported in Canada in the year 2003.

Are There Different Types of Asthma?

Yes, there are two main types of asthma. Extrinsic or allergic asthma is by far the most common (90% of all cases). The onset is most often in childhood, usually between the ages of 2 and 6. Some 80% of all diagnosed cases of allergic asthma also are found to have, as the name indicates, a history of allergies both themselves and in their families. Commonly these victims go into remission as teenagers, but approximately 75% of them will have returning symptoms as they move into adulthood. Intrinsic or non-allergic asthma (10% of all cases) does not appear in most victims until after the age of 30. It is not usually associated with allergies, and is more common among women than men.

Asthma is also classified into types by the frequency and intensity of attacks, and by the results of pulmonary or lung function tests. Statistically, the breakdown is as follows:

30% of cases have mild, intermittent (less than 2 attacks per week) symptoms, with normal lung function tests.
30% have mild, persistent (more than 2 attacks per week) symptoms, with normal lung function tests.
40% have moderate or severe, persistent (daily or continuous) symptoms, with abnormal lung function tests.

What Causes Asthma?

The onset of extrinsic asthma, most often found in young children, seems to definitely be related to allergies. The term “extrinsic” indicates “from without,” and indeed this type of asthma is thought to be brought on by any number of triggers or irritants outside of the patient’s body. In an extrinsic patient, both the initial onset of the disease and the influences that trigger an episode of symptoms are related to irritants or allergens. The case with “intrinsic” (“from within”) patients is a bit different. Studies have shown that often these folks will develop the disease after a serious pulmonary viral infection, but that after that first episode, they can also be triggered by the same allergens as their extrinsic comrades. What are these “triggers?” An exhaustive list is impossible, because each individual is different and each has his own particular events that can cause an attack. However, there are some that are very common. These include:

  • Seasonal allergens, such as pollen ( hay fever)
  • Indoor air pollution (paints, cleaning chemicals, perfumes, dust mites, mold, pet dander etc.)
  • Outdoor pollution (smog, exhaust fumes, etc.)
  • Respiratory infections (colds, bronchitis, etc.)
  • Tobacco smoke (first-hand and second-hand smoke)
  • Certain foods (peanuts, eggs, dairy, fish, among others)
  • Food additives (i.e. sulfides, MSG)
  • Weather (especially cold, dry)
  • Certain drugs (NSAIDS–non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and Beta Blockers)
  • Exercise (especially in cold, dry weather)
  • Hormonal issues (i.e. PMS, menopause)
  • Emotional outbursts (laughing or crying excessively, yelling or extreme anger)

Are There any Natural Remedies for Asthma?

There is much that can be done to prevent and treat asthma symptoms. Traditional prescription drugs have their place. Asthma can be a very dangerous condition, and these drugs can be effective to avoid crises’ in some patients. However, many folks are concerned about side effects from some of these drugs (many of them contain steroids), and are looking for safer more natural options. The good news is that there are many natural alternatives that have proven effective in fighting asthma. A recent cross-cultural study indicated that 81% of parents of children with asthma have sought alternative therapies to help their children.

Common sense tells us that one of the most important things we can do to avoid or manage asthma is to eliminate or minimize the factors that may trigger an attack. (As much as possible, stay away from anything that might set off an episode.) Try to get outside and breathe some fresh, clean air at least 20 minutes a day. Even most cities have a park or “green area” available. Be careful at certain times of the year if you are prone to seasonal allergies or if the weather is too cold. It is a myth that asthmatics cannot exercise. Just be moderate and don’t overdue it. Swimming has been found by some to be excellent treatment for asthma. Avoid second-hand smoke, and if you are still smoking, make it a priority to stop! It’s the number one step you can take to help your asthma and improve your health in general. Talk with your doctor about alternatives if you are taking any NSAIDS or Beta Blocker drugs. Ladies, seek out natural remedies to manage your hormonal issues. A natural USP progesterone cream is a great place to start. Be careful and judicious around any chemicals that you cannot avoid exposure to, perhaps in the workplace (i.e. paint, chemical fumes, etc.). Wear high-quality protective gear if possible. Remember to laugh and treat yourself well. We Often we take (life and ourselves) so seriously that we forget we need to loosen up and take it light. This can help to reduce the stress in our lives and avoid emotional extremities that can sometimes trigger asthma. As a pet lover myself, it’s hard to say this but, if pet dander is a trigger for you, you may need to consider removing them from your home. However, if that is too radical and you can’t part with Fluffy or Fido, then the next best thing would be to manage that environment as best as you can. Perhaps an air filter/purifier can be added to the central heating/AC system. Another tip is to focus on making the bedroom as dander/allergen free as possible. Keep the pets out, use hypoallergenic bedding and change it weekly, washing it with fragrance-free detergent. Sometimes limiting carpeting and upholstered furniture in your home will help too. Even if the pets are gone, dust mites are not your friend either.

Diet and nutrition are huge factors in asthma management. The first step is to eliminate any foods you are allergic to. Any thing that causes an allergic reaction will only aggravate asthma. Avoid any foods or medicines that have artificial ingredients such as colorings or flavorings in them. Often a patient may have to eliminate suspected allergens through a process of elimination. Drop them one at a time from your diet and keep a log of what you are changing and how you feel. Eliminating some items may show an immediate improvement, while with others it will take some time to notice any changes.

Some health practitioners are recommending complete vegetarian diets to asthmatics. One long-term study showed that 92% of patients who eliminated all meat, fish, dairy, and eggs showed great improvement. Perhaps eliminating animal fat and increasing the amounts of fruits and vegetables was responsible for these results. Reducing sodium is also important, with evidence pointing towards reduced asthmatic symptoms and even the lessening of mortality rates with a low-sodium diet.

Load up on antioxidants in your diet.

Vitamin C (known to help keep the bronchial tubes healthy and flowing freely), Vitamin E, selenium, and lycopene have been found to be helpful. Antioxidants fight free radicals which can negatively affect your bronchials as well. Make sure you have enough magnesium/calcium in your diet as well. Deficiency of magnesium is a factor in some asthma cases. Eat lots of fresh fruits (berries, kiwi) and green vegetables from the cabbage family.

The best thing you can do to help fight the effects of asthma in your life is to continue to educate yourself about safe, effective treatments that are working and showing results for others. Never stop learning and never stop applying what you’ve learned. We are responsible for our own health. I for one do not want to ever take someone’s word for anything without looking into it myself. Learn to think and act proactively when it comes to your health and the health of your loved ones. This is especially important today, as it seems that every day new information is coming out about just how toxic and dangerous our modern lives can be. The rate of asthma in America is skyrocketing, especially for kids. Our immune systems are increasingly taking a hit due to the worsening of the environment around us. Asthma management is an excellent example of how applying healthy alternatives can help us specifically with this illness, and generally with our overall health. Studies have shown that infants with a strong family history of asthma can avoid the onset if common allergens are eliminated from their young lives. This again reinforces the fact that prevention is the best course for all of our health needs.

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