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Asthma - Understanding this Growing Epidemic
by Dave Foreman
Asthma is a growing epidemic, even though it isn’t contagious. Asthma affects 12-15 million Americans, including approximately 10-12% of children under age 18. Asthma can occur at any age, even though it seems to occur more often in people under the age of 40. There are strong links to family history and an increased prevalence in those who smoke, who are exposed to smoke, or who have allergies. Asthma is usually caused or triggered by a reaction to something to which your respiratory system is sensitive. The more frequent the contact or severity of the exposure will often determine the severity of the attack. Triggers like infections (cold, flu), tobacco smoke, weather changes, allergens (pollen, mold, etc.), strong emotions like anxiety or stress, exercise, and even strong odors like perfumes and cleaning supplies may lead to an asthma attack.
People with asthma experience symptoms when their airways tighten, swell up, or fill with mucus. Common symptoms include: coughing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest (pressure or pain), and wheezing. Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms, which can vary from one attack to the next.
Modern medicine usually treats this condition with anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators, which relax the smooth muscles surrounding the bronchioles. It always amazed me as a pharmacist that more physicians didn’t address the root cause of the asthma. Instead, they prescribed symptom masking “treatments” to address the issue. For example, I have seen a strong emotional tie to asthma in children. It’s as if they are barking like a dog to get attention or to say something they are afraid to say, but instead, they cough.And, what about allergies? We know now that the immune system can handle most of what you throw at it, but when the last straw ends up on the camel’s back, it breaks. I believe in dietary changes such as removing potentially offensive foods like dairy and foods containing gluten. Removal of these food groups alone may be all you need to do so your body can handle the airborne allergens.
Beyond the dietary changes, I also like to look at the emotional link. Perhaps a fear of being unable to cry out or feeling stifled can be the underlying cause of your asthma symptoms. I know many people may think that I just flaked out by saying there is an emotional tie, but even modern medicine is acknowledging this to be true. Again, this all goes along with my “Four Pillars of Great Health.” You need to take care of the whole person; not just the part you want to. Diet, Exercise, Emotional/Spiritual Health, and Supplements all play a CRITICAL role in your health.
The list of supplements that will help you with asthma is potentially large. We will break it down into categories to best aid you in making the selections that are right for you. The categories are “Preventative” such as antioxidants, anti- inflammatory supplements; and “Acute Needs” such as bronchodilating and anti-inflammatory. I realize that anti-inflammatory is listed twice, but these supplements can be effective at preventing an episode as well as helping the body recover more quickly.
First, let’s discuss prevention. This should be the major objective of anyone with asthma; yet it only seems to be important to those with more severe cases. It has been shown that people with low blood levels of selenium have a higher risk of developing asthma. Selenium is an antioxidant and should be part of your Dietary Supplement Pyramid if you have asthma. In addition, other antioxidants such as lycopene (from tomatoes) and vitamin C have also shown to be helpful for those with asthma. Supporting the body’s ability to fight inflammation - a trigger for asthma - is just as important as using antioxidants. These supplements would fall into the “Special Needs” category of your Dietary Supplement Pyramid. Herbs like boswellia have shown to significantly reduce the number of asthma attacks and increase breathing capacity when taken on a regular basis. Quercetin has a dual-action, acting as an anti-oxidant and an anti-inflammatory in the body.
There still isn’t enough science to prove that it works, but I have seen it work great - especially in those with asthma due to allergies. Finally, fish oil (Coromega® is my favorite) has so many positive effects on the body and proven benefits for those with asthma.As little as 300 mg per day in children can help improve their asthma symptoms.
If you are one of those “pay me later” types of people who wait until you are having an asthma episode, Mother Nature can still help. Herbs like lobelia have shown to help relax the smooth muscle that surrounds your bronchioles, and can therefore make breathing easier. Lobelia also acts like an expectorant, which is helpful in reducing inflammation and decreasing coughing.
Other expectorant herbs like marshmallow, slippery elm, and mullein can also provide similar benefits, without the bronchial relaxing benefits. Boswellia is another herb that is effective in acute cases of asthma. Yes, it was mentioned as part of a prevention program, but studies have also shown that it is helpful in acute cases of asthma.
Whatever your needs - acute or chronic - my Four Pillars of Great Health will provide you with solutions to your respiratory woes. In “treating” asthma, all pillars are essential in ridding your body of this condition. Some may say diet is the most important. I say supplementation, along with dietary changes, emotional changes, and increased activity (when permitted) will be the only way to reach the goal of ending asthma attacks.