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Asthma is an allergic lung disorder in which spasms and inflammation of the bronchial passages restrict the flow of air in and out of the lungs. An asthma attack usually starts with sudden fits of wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath. However, it may begin insidiously with slowly increasing manifestations of respiratory distress. A sensation of tightness in the chest is also common. Asthma attacks range in severity from mild wheezing to a life-threatening inability to breathe.
Asthma can be divided into childhood and adult types
Childhood-onset asthma is more common in boys than girls and is usually linked with the presence of other allergic conditions, such as eczema, hay fever, urticaria or migraine. It may be a nutritional approach preceded for several months by episodes of coughing, which gradually develop into wheezy bronchitis and eventually asthma.
Adult-onset asthma is more common in women than in men. There are two broad types, called extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic asthma: is an allergy-related condition with a characteristic increase in the serum immunoglobulin.
Intrinsic asthma: is associated with a bronchial reaction that is due to factors such as infection, chemical triggers, cold air, exercise, and emotional upset.
Causes of Asthma
The mechanisms by which asthma causes airway inflammation and constriction are complex and involve a cascade of events that leads to the release of inflammatory mediators.
In extrinsic asthma, this appears to be linked to a change in the ratios of different kinds of lymphocytes in the airway mucosa in favour of those kinds that produce inflammatory leukotrienes and cytokines, which in turn step up production and the activation of mast cells and eosinophils.
Intrinsic asthma involves disruption of the autonomic nervous system as a result of various triggers. Normally, the actions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are balanced and integrated by the hypothalamus. Intrinsic asthma triggers cause a shift in favour of the parasympathetic nervous system, which leads to airway constriction, mucus production and increased heart rate.
There are numerous potential triggers for asthma. Although food allergy is probably not the main cause of most cases of asthma, it may be an exacerbating factor for many people.
Where this is suspected, a blood test can be useful. Elimination diets, in which the suspected allergic foods are avoided, have been successful in treating asthma, particularly in infants and children. An elimination and challenge diet can be used to confirm an allergy to a particular food or foods.
Some common Asthma triggers
Inhaled allergens - e.g. house dust mite, moulds, feathers, pollen, pet hair,cigarette smoke, traffic fumes, chemicals in the workplace (e.g. photocopiers) or dust.
Food allergies/sensitivities - commonly cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, food additives, cheese, yeast, fish, salicylates (present in many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices).
Specific foods - not allergy related, e.g. salt, sugar, alcohol
Low stomach acid - which favours the development of food allergies.
Immune system challenges - e.g. antibiotics, steroids, amalgam fillings,candidiasis and childhood vaccinations. Asthma is twice as prevalent in children vaccinated with the DTP vaccine - diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough), or tetanus vaccine alone than in those who are not
Medicines - e.g. aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), beta-blockers.
Low blood sugar
Changes in the weather - especially cold air.
Conventional treatment options
Several classes of drugs are commonly used for short term symptom relief and long term control. Inhaled beta-adrenergic agonist drugs relax bronchial passages to facilitate breathing. Other drugs that relax the bronchi and can be used for symptom relief include theophylline and anticholinergic drugs, such
Asthma patients have been shown to have significantly lower levels of vitamin C than normal, in blood serum and white blood cells as atropine and ipratropium bromide. For long term control, corticosteroids are usually the treatment of choice.
Considerable problems may be associated with long term use of corticosteroids. The sole purpose of a steroid drug is to suppress the body’s normal response to damage or to an immune challenge. These drugs cannot target a specific area of the body - their effects are felt in every organ system. Their side effects include overactive adrenals (which can lead to Cushing’s disorder), muscle wasting, skin atrophy, stretch marks, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, mood swings, acne, weight gain and glaucoma. They also reduce bone density, causing osteoporosis, and interfere with the action of insulin, causing blood sugar imbalances.
Asthma patients have been shown to have significantly lower levels of vitamin C than normal, in blood serum and white blood cells
Dietary changes that may be helpful
Because the production of leukotrienes, which contribute to the allergic and inflammatory reactions found in asthma, is fuelled by arachidonic acid, which is unique to animal products, a vegan diet is often helpful. When such a diet was followed for one year in conjunction with many specific dietary changes (such as avoidance of caffeine, sugar, salt, and chlorinated tap water) and combined with a variety of herbs and supplements, significant improvements were reported in one group of asthmatics. A vegan diet would also help restore the body’s sodium/potassium balance.
Studies suggest that a high salt intake may have an adverse effect on asthma, particularly in men. In a small, preliminary trial, doubling salt intake for one month led to a small increase in airway reactivity (indicating a worsening of asthma) in men with asthma, as well as in non-asthmatics.
Several double-blind trials have provided evidence of clinical improvement following a period of sodium restriction. They consistently suggest that increased dietary sodium may aggravate asthma symptoms, especially in men.
Intake of fruit and vegetables should be increased, particularly those highest in vitamin C (e.g. red and green peppers, leafy greens, broccoli and strawberries). Asthma patients have been shown to have significantly lower levels of vitamin C than normal, in blood serum and white blood cells.
A large preliminary study has shown that young children with asthma experience significantly less wheezing if they eat a diet high in vitamin C-rich fruits.
Some vegetables, particularly onions and garlic, contain flavonoids that inhibit the inflammatory response.
Nutritional supplements in the treatment of Asthma
Magnesium levels are frequently low in asthmatics and increased dietary magnesium may be associated with better lung function and reduced bronchial spasms.
In a preliminary trial, 18 adults with asthma took 300 mg of magnesium per day for 30 days and experienced decreased bronchial reactivity.
Another trial found that 400 mg per day for three weeks led to a significant improvement in symptoms.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is common in people with asthma. This deficiency may relate to the asthma itself or to certain asthma drugs (such as theophylline and aminophylline) that deplete vitamin B6 .
In a trial, 200 mg per day of vitamin B6 for two months reduced the severity of asthma in children and reduced the amount of asthma medication they needed.
In another trial, asthmatic adults experienced a dramatic decrease in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks while taking 50 mg of vitamin B6 twice a day.
Vitamin C, given as a 1,000 mg per day supplement, has been found to reduce the tendency of the bronchial passages to go into spasm.
In one trial, 500 mg of vitamin C per day for two days prevented attacks of exercise- induced asthma.
Long-term vitamin C supplementation (1 gram per day for 14 weeks) reduced the severity and frequency of attacks among adults with asthma.
A selenium-containing enzyme, glutathione peroxidase, is very important for reducing the formation of inflammatory leukotrienes. People with low levels of selenium have a high risk of asthma.
In a trial, supplementation with 100 µg of sodium selenite (a form of selenium) per day for 14 weeks resulted in clinical improvement in six of eleven patients.
Lycopene, an antioxidant related to beta- carotene and found in tomatoes, helps reduce the symptoms of asthma caused by exercising.
In a trial, over half of people with exercise-induced asthma had significantly fewer asthma symptoms after taking capsules containing 30 mg of lycopene per day for one week.
Fish oils contain the essential fatty acids eicosa pentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which block the production of leukotrienes.
Research shows that fish oil reduces reactions to allergens that can trigger attacks in some asthmatics.
There is evidence that children who eat oily fish have a much lower risk of getting asthma and children who were given 300 mg per day of fish oil (providing 84 mg of EPA and 36 mg of DHA).
A study conducted many years ago showed that 80 percent of children with asthma had hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid). Supplementation with hydrochloric acid (HCl) in combination with avoidance of known food allergens led to clinical improvement.
These days, HCl is usually taken in the form of betaine hydrochloride. The amount needed depends on the severity of hypochlorhydria and on the size of a meal. Because it is highly acidic, betaine hydrochloride should be used only under professional supervision.
Quercetin is known to block the conversion of arachidonic acid to inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes, so it is perhaps surprising that it has not been the subject of clinical trials for asthma.
Herbal remedies for Asthma
Indian lobelia (Tylophora indica) is a specific remedy for asthma. One double-blind trial had people with bronchial asthma chew and swallow one tylophora leaf (150 mg of the leaf by weight) per day for six days. Participants were also given a comparable placebo to be chewed and swallowed during a different six-day period. When consuming tylophora, over half of the people reported experiencing moderate to complete relief of their asthma symptoms.
Boswellia has investigated the effects of the Ayurvedic herb boswellia (Boswellia serrata), in people with acute bronchial asthma. 300 mg of powdered boswellia resin extract or placebo three times daily for six weeks. The number of asthma attacks was significantly lower in the group taking boswellia and objective measurements of breathing capacity were also significantly improved.
The following products are recommended for bringing order to the Lifestyle Disorders.
Supplements for Asthma
Dosage recommendation can be sought from our specialist at My HealthWorks Clinics/ Telephonically.