Asthma and Natural Health Care
Nearly 20 million people in the United States suffer from asthma, 70% of whom also have allergies. Between 1980 and 1994 the prevalence of asthma increased 75%. Between 1982 and 1992 the death rate from asthma increased by 35%. Asthma is characterized by narrowing of the airways. The airways of the asthmatic individual become irritated more easily than those of someone without the disease. In asthma, the lining of the airways (called bronchi) become irritated, inflamed and swollen. It is thought that the mast cells are involved with this inflammation. Mast cells are cells found in connective tissue that are important in the body’s defense. They produce inflammatory chemicals.
During an asthma attack the smooth muscle surrounding the airways goes into spasm (called bronchospasm). The combination of the swelling from the irritation, the mucus and the spasm narrows the airway and the person has trouble moving air in and out of the lungs.
Drug treatments for asthma include bronchodilators (called beta androgenic receptor blockers) to stop sudden attacks. Another drug is theophyline which is taken regularly to relax the airways. The amount of the drug needs to be monitored by a physician. If the levels of the drug get too high, it can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias or seizures. Initially when taking the drug, the patient may feel jittery or have nausea. Corticosteroids are sometimes used; they are powerful and effective at ending an asthmatic attack, but long term use damages the immune system, causes poor wound healing, diminishes calcium in the bone, causes bleeding in the stomach, increases blood sugar, weakens cartilage and can create mental problems. Cromolyn and nedocromil are given to suppress the inflammatory chemicals from the mast cells. These are given to prevent attacks, but are not effective in treating an asthma attack.
Natural health care can reduce the severity of asthma and reduce the number of attacks. The goal of natural health care is to reduce the inflammation of the airways and to relax the constriction (the same goal as the drug therapy)—the advantage of the natural health care is the absence of side-effects. An asthma attack can be fatal, so keeping tight medical control over the symptoms is often necessary. However natural health care can address the cause of the problem and reduce the reliance on drugs.
Oxidation and free-radical damage are words to describe damage being done to cells by certain chemical constituents. A free radical is an electron that is easily given up by a molecule. It is “fired”, like a kind of chemical “bullet”. The words used to describe this action include oxidation, oxidative stress and free-radical damage. This is how the airways become irritated in asthma. Certain nutrients, like vitamins C and E (among others) act like little “bullet-proof vests” that protect from this damage. Fresh, brightly colored produce is also very high in antioxidants. There is scientific research that demonstrates that antioxidant supplements and getting antioxidants in the diet by eating fresh fruits and vegetables is beneficial to asthmatic patients. To see some of these articles, go to our physician referral page and link to the web sites of one of the doctors listed there. There you will find hundreds of scientific articles on a variety of health topics.
There are also natural ways to relax the airways. Magnesium has been called nature’s muscle relaxer. A magnesium infusion has been used to stop severe asthma attacks. Also, there are a number of research papers which demonstrate that magnesium supplementation benefits asthmatics. Magnesium deficiency is fairly common in the US. Fresh vegetables are rich in magnesium.
Omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in fish oil) help to reduce asthma symptoms. They work to reduce inflammation and to relax the airways. Other supplements that help asthmatics include selenium and CoQ10. To see some of the research about magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutritional supplements, go to our physician referral page and link to the web site of one of the doctors listed there.
There are aspects of natural health care that have not been well researched, but natural health care practitioners have found these treatments to be useful. Traditional medicine will often scoff at reports of patients benefiting from such treatments and call them “anecdotal”. It is like saying the information is a rumor.
Traditional medicine takes the attitude that “anecdotal” information is useless. Natural health practitioners tend to pay attention to anecdotal information. If several doctors make the same anecdotal observation, there may be something worthwhile. With most natural therapies there usually are no side-effects and little chance that the patient will be harmed. Trying something that is anecdotal or unproven can’t do any harm, and it may actually help. Also, physicians who use natural health care talk to each other and develop therapies based on information obtained in those conversations. The result is a body of knowledge and therapies that are effective, but not necessarily written about in scientific journals.
An example of one of these “anecdotal” therapies is supplementation with hydrochloric acid. If the stomach does not produce enough hydrochloric acid many minerals and other nutrients are not absorbed. Also people who do not produce enough stomach hydrochloric acid have a tendency to have allergies and asthma. You will not find a lot of scientific literature about this. However many practitioners of natural health care have found that some (but not all) asthma and allergy patients benefit from hydrochloric acid supplementation.
Treating patients for intestinal parasites or yeast is another example of a therapy that may be effective, but does not have a lot of proof in the scientific literature. Treating hidden food allergies is another such therapy. Many patients get better if they give up wheat, dairy or other common allergen. The foods that cause the problem do not cause an immediate reaction—in fact; many times they are favorite foods.
When utilizing natural health care it is a good idea to get professional help. You can make the dietary changes suggested in this article, take omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin C and other antioxidants, and improve. Giving up refined food, chemical additives and trans fats will also be beneficial. A health professional who has clinical experience and who has studied natural health care can help you to develop a therapy that goes beyond these simple steps.