A Naturopathic Approach to Asthma
arents raising kids with asthma realize that attacks can happen anywhere, even in the most innocuous situations. Children can get them when exercising, playing with their friends, or even hugging the family pet. Sufferers gag, cough, and wheeze while trying to breathe through swollen airways.
Guardians usually grab prescribed medications, like rescue inhalers, to treat attacks before they become life-threatening. Traditional medicines are beneficial, but it only addresses symptoms. It doesn't heal the root cause of inflammation within the body. The best option is to have the pharmaceutical drugs incase of emergencies but simultaneously try to decrease the child's overall inflammation so that they have less of a need for their rescue inhalers.
I. Asthma Basics
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a medical condition that affects the lungs and air passages. It is a hypersensitive reaction that causes bronchospasm, mucosal edema, increased mucous secretion, and respiratory distress. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly 25 million Americans suffer from the illness.
The prevalence of Asthma is on the rise. In 2001, one in 14 people suffered from asthma. Today, one in 10 people have the condition. No one knows for sure why the numbers are rising but these are two possible reasons.
- Environmental Pollution - Asthma is similar to other autoimmune conditions. Exposure to environmental toxins leads to an increased inflammatory response in sensitive individuals. Additionally, these irritants impact their immune regulation and intestinal microbiota diversity.
- Poor Posture - Another surprising issue contributing to growing asthma numbers is poor posture. There is a lack of structural integrity in today's pediatric population. Modern-day children have bad posture. They don't exercise. These kids also spend hours crouched over electronic devices like tablets or smartphones.
What is an Asthma Attack?
This reaction begins when a sensitive patient is exposed to a trigger (allergens). During an asthmatic episode, the individual's chest tightens, their airway swells, and they begin wheezing.
I've found every patient has different triggers. Some asthmatics are sensitive to pollutants. Others react to dander or pollen. These contaminants wouldn't cause a reaction in individuals with healthy immune systems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most common triggers are:
- Tobacco Smoke
- Dust Mites
- Animal Dander
- Strong odors and sprays (cleaning products, perfume, etc;)
- Burning materials
- Weather changes
- Respiratory illnesses (a cold, the flu, sinusitis).
Are there Different Types of Asthma?
Asthma comes in a variety of forms. Most patients fall into two categories:
- Allergic (Extrinsic) Asthma: These attacks are triggered by allergens. Extrinsic asthma sufferers have bodies that overproduce eosinophils and Immunoglobulin-E (IgE). Twenty-five percent of these patients will continue experiencing symptoms into adulthood.
- Exercise (Intrinsic) Induced Asthma: Weather-related conditions (like cold, dry air) triggers symptoms. Some intrinsic asthmatics suffer from mild allergies; however, 20 percent have no underlying asthma issues.
Do Asthmatic Patients Have Biological Differences?
Sufferers have physical variations that make them more likely to experience attacks. They include:
- Goblet Cells: Kids with asthma have a higher number of Goblet cells. These mucus-producing cells line our body's respiratory and intestinal tracts.
- Mast Cells: These individuals have five times more Mast cells (a white blood cell) than normal patients.
- Faster Breathing Rates: Sufferers have an increased breathing rate, even while resting.
- Smooth Muscles: Asthmatics airway muscles are thicker and stronger.
- Increased mucus production: Normal bodies produce one - 1.5 liters of mucus per day. Asthma sufferers produce more. Greater phlegm production gives asthma patients an evolutionary advantage. The fluids trap viruses and bacteria. The secretion prevents bacteria from colonizing the bronchioles. Additionally, it establishes a moisturizing layer that traps irritants like pollution, smoke, and dust.
Does Stress Play a Role in Asthma?
Yes, your emotional state can initiate attacks. Stress may increase the likelihood of asthma attacks. Panic, anxiety, and fear can also worsen symptoms.
II. Conventional Asthma Treatments
Traditional doctors use the following conventional medicines to treat asthma.
Rescue Inhalers: Physicians prescribe rescue inhalers as the primary treatment for asthma attacks. Their technical names are Inhaled Short-Acting Beta-2 Agonists. Most inhalers contain Albuterol (AccuNeb) which treats breathing difficulties.
Rescue inhalers can be lifesaving, but they come with dangers.
- Increased Attack Severity: Medical research studies have found long-term inhaler use can actually intensify severity of asthma attacks.
- Paradoxical bronchoconstriction- This condition is rapid, unexpected bronchospasm caused by rescued inhalers. Individuals experience shortness of breath and difficulty speaking.
Xolair: This subcutaneous treatment is injected into the bloodstream. The medicine binds to Immunoglobulin E (IgE). It stops bronchospasm, edema, and airway obstruction. The drug is primarily used in children.
Inhaled corticosteroids: These treatments contain compounds like beclomethasone dipropionate, flunisolide, and other chemicals. Inhaled corticosteroids should be taken daily to be effective, however, they have side effects. These include thrush, skin irritation, and nosebleeds.
Popular brands are Advair, Azmacort, and Pulmicort Flexhaler.
III. Natural Treatments for Asthma
Prevention is the best medicine for asthma. In my practice, I've helped my patients reduce the severity of attacks by incorporating natural remedies
Natural remedies are safe and effective at addressing the root cause of the condition.
Prevent Attacks by Eliminating Environmental Toxins
I believe that asthmatics should reduce all environmental irritants, like mold. These can cause asthma attacks. Mold mycotoxins don't affect everyone the same way. Not all people are allergic to it. Your tolerance depends on genetics and your body's ability to detox it.
Mold spores can grow indoors or outdoors. They can attach themselves to clothing, pets, shoes, bags, and other objects. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the bacterium Stachybotrys is responsible for most mold allergies and over 100 cases of lung disorders. The most common molds are Aspergillus, Alternaria, Cladosporium, andPenicillium.
You can take these steps to eliminate mold from your environment:
- Take out carpeting from your home.
- Use an air purifier with HEPA filtration.
- Use a dehumidifier to lower humidity by 30 - 60 percent.
- Wash clothing and surfaces.
- Fix leaky pipes to prevent moisture that encourages fungal growth.
Change Your Diet to Reduce Attacks
In my practice, I advise patients to eat wholesome meals to reduce lung-related inflammation. I know this is common-sense knowledge, but I can't tell you how many people forget to practice this.
Asthmatics should stay away from potential allergens like eggs, dairy, and wheat. Even if you don't have a true food allergy, you may still have a sensitivity. Keep a food diary to track ingredients that cause you problems.
Avoid foods that trigger mucus production. These include milk products, sugar, caffeine, bananas, and black tea. Stay away from sugar, processed foods, factory-farmed meats, and chemical additives that contain high arachidonic levels.
Consume a diet rich in locally grown fruits and vegetables, free-range poultry, and wild seafood. These ingredients promote an alkaline environment in your body and reduce inflammation. You'll need to maintain an alkalinity range of 7.35-7.45 pH.
Can Asthma Be Caused By Leaky Gut Issues?
I can't help it. I'm a naturopathic physician so I believe that most health problems start in the gut! Many asthmatic patients I work with suffer from severe gastrointestinal issues. One study found that eighty-nine percent of asthmatics suffer from GERD! Stomach acid irritates their bronchial tract.
Additionally, I've found that allergies are often related to hyper-permeability of epithelial lining of the digestive tract. This condition occurs when the intestinal walls thin, allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream. Science beginning to understand the connection between the gut and lungs in research studies. Studies show that metabolites in gut microbiota may exacerbate lung inflammation.
Natural Supplements to Treat Asthma
My patients ask me if there are nutritional supplements that can reduce the frequency of their child's asthma attacks. I use a combination of specific probiotics, nutrients and herbs. (See my previous post on herbs and asthma.)
- Viburnum (an anti-spasmodic)
- Mullein and Marshmallow (helpful for the lungs)
- Astragalus and Elderberry (immune regulation)
- Elecampane and Wild Cherry (relaxing expectorant)
- Passionflower, Valerian (calming herbs for anxiety)
- Fish oil
- Algae oil.
Breathing Techniques for Asthma
Breathing exercises have helped many asthmatics reduce the severity of attacks. Often when a child begins to have an asthma attack, they begin to breath harder and faster, partly out of fear. This is exactly, the worst thing they can do during an attack, sometimes just educating a child how to handle their asthma symtpoms can decrease their need for a rescue inhaler. Buteyko Technique, Yogic Breathing, Slow breathing techniques.
Naturopathic treatments continue to show promise in decreasing asthma attacks. Your kid deserves safe, alternative therapies that will help them heal.
As a naturopathic doctor, I'd love to work with your child. I can show you wonderful techniques that will help strengthen your kid's immune system and improve their system. Contact me to schedule an appointment today.