As an integrative physician, one of my top recommendations is to breathe deeply. In addition to oxygenating our cells, breathing calms us and reduces stress. In some ways, taking a deep breath is the simplest possible prescription—but not for everyone. For those struggling with asthma, breathing deeply can be an ongoing challenge.
Asthma is caused by inflamed airways, which makes them sensitive to inhaled particles, generating more inflammation. During a flare up, asthma sufferers cough, wheeze and generally have trouble filling their lungs. In the U.S., as many as 25 million people have asthma.
While there is no conventional cure for asthma, there are a variety of treatments, most notably steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs. These medications are often necessary, but I’d like to explore more holistic approaches to controlling inflammation and decreasing the airways’ sensitivity to inhaled particles. During the winter season in particular, people with asthma often need extra support, since indoor air quality and reduced immune function can worsen symptoms.
Quite often, lung inflammation is just one manifestation of a larger allergic response. This could be a reaction to something in the air, such as dust mites or household chemicals, or a food allergy. One study of inner city youth found that 24 percent of all asthmatic kids had at least one food allergy or sensitivity. The prevalence of food allergies is increasing, so we can expect asthma to keep pace.
The first step should be to identify any allergies. Reducing or eliminating exposure to allergenic foods, the most common being dairy, soy, gluten and eggs, as well as other common allergens, can reduce symptoms. If allergens are airborne, an air purification system can also help. Allergies and sensitivities can be detected through a variety of tests ordered by an allergist, or by selectively eliminating specific foods and observing any improvements and changes.
A recent study found a link between chronic bacterial infections and asthma. Researchers in Australia examined patients with asthma or rhinosinusitis and found bacterial infections in 83 percent of study participants. Many of these patients had Staphylococcus aureus, the close relative to antibiotic-resistant MRSA, as well as other bacteria that have shown drug resistance.
These findings underscore the importance of strong immunity when dealing with asthma. It’s the best way to address these chronic infections and the inflammatory conditions they may fuel.
There are many botanicals that can help us reduce airway inflammation and thus control asthma symptoms. Medicinal mushrooms are well known for their ability to balance immunity, modulate inflammation and provide numerous other benefits. One variety, Cordyceps sinensis, has been shown to reduce airway inflammation and hypersensitivity in animals.
Another issue can be vitamin deficiency, particularly vitamin D. One study found that reduced vitamin D levels were closely linked to reduced lung function. Although this research was mainly focused on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it has applications in asthma as well. In addition, I recommend vitamins A, C and E, which also offer lung protection.
Ginger can be useful to treat asthma. One study found that ginger can open up airways by relaxing smooth muscle. I also recommend the herb Lobelia, which supports breathing and the cough reflex. Lobelia also synergizes with ginger to support lung function.
Honokiol, which is extracted from Magnolia bark, is known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Some research has indicated it can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress following lung injury.
Galectin-3 is an inflammatory protein associated with cancer, heart disease and other conditions related to inflammation and fibrosis. As such, research shows galectin-3 to be a potential therapeutic target in asthma treatment. There is a unique natural compound to address galectin-3 elevation: Modified citrus pectin (MCP). Derived from orange peels, MCP is a form of citrus pectin that has been modified for absorption into the circulation and increased bioactivity. MCP binds to excess galectin-3 to block its pro-cancer, pro-inflammatory effects. MCP is also known for its ability to safely remove heavy metals and support immunity.
I also recommend a Tibetan herbal formula for its ability to reduce inflammation and provide anti-oxidant support. This ancient blend of powerful herbs also supports immunity and controls inflammation, making it an excellent supplement for asthma sufferers.
A healthy diet
Many people have touted the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, olive oil, lean protein, legumes and whole grains. This diet is well known for its anti-inflammatory effects, and people who adopt this diet often lower their risks for heart disease and cancer.
This approach seems to work for asthma as well. A study conducted in New Zealand found that asthma patients who switched to a Mediterranean diet did better than those who stayed with their existing food plan.
Medical practice in this country often treats asthma in isolation: These are the symptoms; these are the drugs that will address those symptoms. But we can’t really treat the condition until we understand its underlying causes. Because asthma has such an impact on quality of life, reducing the frequency and intensity of flare-ups by making simple diet and lifestyle changes can be life-changing. Underlying contributing factors may vary between patients, but if we look at chronic infections, allergens and nutrition, we can find the right combination of food and supplements to mitigate symptoms. Asthma isn’t an easy condition to treat, but with a little extra effort we can breathe easier and improve other areas of health as well.
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