Natural Asthma Treatment in Vermont
Asthma is a common condition which leads to breathing difficulty, coughing, and wheezing. It is caused by a combination of spasm of the small airways of the lung and inflammation, both of which impair the ability of the lungs to exchange air. The severity of asthma symptoms can range from mild wheezing to life threatening breathing difficulties. It affects about 3% of the US population, with children under the age of 10 being most at risk.
The natural treatment of asthma focuses on several key principles:
- Reduce allergic exposure
- Reduce the sensitivity and spasticity of the airways of the lungs
- Balance the allergic/inflammatory pathways in the body
- Correct nutrient imbalances
- Reduce histamine exposure
Reducing Allergic Exposure in Natural Asthma Treatment
More than 90% of asthmatic children under the age of 16 are allergic, about 70% of asthmatics between the ages of 16 and 30 are allergic, and one half of those over 30 are allergic. Reducing allergic exposure is therefore key to the treatment of asthma and includes avoiding not only airborne allergens such as molds, pollens, animal dander, and dust, but also food allergens such as dairy, eggs, gluten, and other foods.
Food Allergies in Natural Asthma Treatment
Food allergies are very common in people with asthma, especially when the asthma starts early in life. A 1981 study of 284 asthmatic children found food sensitivities in 75% of the children, and other studies have identified food allergy as the sole cause of asthma in up to 40% of adults. Food allergies occur when the immune system reacts to foods in the same way it would to foreign bacteria.
Food allergies occur most commonly to dairy, wheat, citrus, soy, peanuts, corn, yeast, chocolate, nightshades (potato, tomato, pepper, eggplant) and eggs. The list of potentially allergic foods, however, includes pretty much everything a person eats. The more frequently a food is eaten, the more likely it is to be a food allergen.
While most people think of a food allergy as an immediate, severe reaction such as when someone eats a peanut or strawberry and can't breathe, this reaction is relatively rare compared to the much more common delayed allergic reaction. Delayed reactions are caused by an IgG or IgA antibody (rather than the IgE antibody that causes the immediate and severe reactions), and can occur anywhere from a few minutes to a couple days after eating the allergic food. The reaction is generally much more insidious, and can include things such as asthma, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, ear infections, sinusitis, irritable bowel, inflammatory bowel disease, anxiety, depression, fatigue, hyperactivity, obesity, and post nasal drip. Most often people with delayed allergies don't realize they are allergic because of this and because they may be eating a variety of food allergens frequently.
There are many different options when it comes to diagnosing food allergies. The best is a blood antibody test, which is more accurate for this type of allergy than a skin prick test. Blood tests are available to check up to 96 or more foods all at once and are covered by most health insurance plans.
Environmental Allergies in Natural Asthma Treatment
The first step in reducing exposure to airborne allergens is to determine what the individual is reacting to. There are two basic options to determine this: skin allergy testing and blood allergy testing. Skin allergy testing, however, is considered the gold standard and can sometimes identify allergens that blood testing misses.
Once the allergic triggers have been identified, a plan should be developed to reduce exposure to those allergens. Dust mites, for example, can be found in especially high amounts in carpets and bedding. These items can be removed, treated, or covered to reduce dust mite populations. Air filters can be an effective way to remove some allergens from the air as well. Air filters can remove pollen, mold and animal dander, but not dust mite allergen. Both HEPA and ionizing air purifiers work well, but ionization units should be chosen carefully for low ozone output, which is itself an irritant.
Reducing Airway Spasticity in Natural Asthma Treatment
Reducing the spasticity of the airway is also an important goal. Magnesium is well known for its ability to relieve muscle spasm, and this includes the muscles that surround the airways of the lung. Green tea and the herbal medicine lobelia are also effective bronchodilators.
Reducing Inflammation in Natural Asthma Treatment
Balancing the allergic/inflammatory pathways in the body is also very important. Omega 3 oils, which are found in fish and flax seeds, can be an effective way to do this. One study found that children who eat fish more than once per week have one third the risk of developing asthma as those who don’t eat fish regularly. Avoiding tartrazine dyes (found in many artificial colorings), preservatives, aspirin, ibuprofen, and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is also important as these substances promote the production of leukotrienes, which are potent inflammatory substances involved in asthma. Identifying and eliminating food allergens can also be a very effective way to lower inflammation throughout the body.
Nutrients in Natural Asthma Treatment
Nutrients that are important in the treatment of asthma include vitamins C, B6, and B12, and the minerals selenium and molybdenum. There have been 11 clinical studies since 1973 which have studied the use of vitamin C in the treatment of asthma, seven of which showed significant improvement. Vitamin B12 and molybdenum both act to reduce sensitivity to sulfites, a common ingredient of restaurant foods which aggravates asthma in an estimated 5-10% of people with asthma. Urine testing is available in our office to determine if someone has sulfite sensitivity that may be contributing to their asthma.
Histamine Intolerance in Natural Asthma Treatment
Histamine intolerance is a condition in which the body cannot adequately metabolize the compound histamine. Histamine is best known for its role in allergic diseases such as hay fever, hives, and asthma. When histamine is released by cells in the body it causes a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and itching. Histamine is also found in many of the foods we eat, however, and can build up to excessive levels without allergen exposure when an individual has a decreased capacity to get rid of excessive histamine. One of the main causes of this is an impairment in the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO), which is responsible for metabolizing histamine. There are common known genetic variations which can impair the function of this and other enzymes and cause histamine intolerance. When this happens, it can also cause symptoms of IBS, headaches, flushing, and asthma in addition to the typical allergy symptoms listed above. Food allergies, however, can also cause all of these allergic symptoms, so this alone is not enough to confirm histamine intolerance. A low histamine diet, which restricts fermented foods such as beer, wine, hard cheese, vinegar, and sauerkraut, as well as bananas, avocadoes, cured meats, dried fruits, and other high histamine foods, can be an effective tool in the diagnosis and treatment of histamine intolerance.
Finally, many people with asthma don’t produce enough stomach acid, a condition which can lead to food allergies and decreased nutrient absorption. A 1931 study found that 80% of asthmatic children produce insufficient amounts of stomach acid. This problem can be corrected with hydrochloric acid supplements.
Bottom Line in Natural Asthma Treatment
While all of the above natural substances can be used individually, the greatest benefit comes from a comprehensive treatment program which includes the following:
- Get blood testing for food allergies
- Get skin testing for environmental allergies
- Get urine testing for sulfite sensitivity
- Try a low histamine diet for histamine intolerance
- Reduce airway spasticity with magnesium, green tea, and lobelia
- Reduce inflammation with fish oils
- Take selected nutrients such as selenium and vitamins C, B6, and B12
Many people with mild to moderate asthma are able to reduce or even eliminate their need for prescription medications by following this approach. Asthma medications should not, however, be discontinued without first consulting a physician, as this can lead to a life threatening emergency.
How We Can Help
Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. To find out which natural treatments are appropriate for you or to be tested for food allergies or other causes of asthma, schedule an office visit or food allergy test, or make a selection below.