Asthma

Chronic disease characterized by sudden attacks of severe breathing difficulties (dyspnoea) and cough. Cough may be productive (followed by expectoration) or dry. Attacks are often followed by anxiety.

Asthma is a hypersensitivity disease characterized by attacks of severe breathing difficulties.
Between attacks the patient has no symptoms. Asthma attacks are caused by constriction of the bronchial tubes because of contraction of broncial smooth muscle and increased production of mucus. This leads to cough and difficulties in breathing. Attacks can also cause anxiety.

The agents that the allergy sufferers react to are called allergens. In addition to the agents listed above, nuts, fruits, shellfish, additives, and preservatives can be allergenic. Asthma can also be elicited by other external factors such as cigarette smoke and other kinds of smoke or fumes, polution, chemicals, and changes in the weather and temperature. Hormonal fluctuations, blood sugar related problems, stress, and a high level of physical activity can also contribute to the development of an asthma attack.

The symptoms of asthma are caused by an overreaction of the cells of the immune system upon meeting with the allergen. Approximately 20 seconds after the meeting with the allergen, the cells of the immune system release histamine and other potent chemical agents.
These are the actual cause of the well-known symptoms described in the introduction. If left untreated athma can develop into a life-threatening condition.

Asthma can strike people within all age groups, but there are large regional differences in the incidence of the disease. The disease is most often seen in children. The incidence of asthma has doubled over the last 20 years and has not topped yet. The same is true for the severity of the reported cases, the symptoms are getting more pronounced.

Statistical data on asthma:

  • The incidence of asthma is greater in children whose mothers used antibiotics during pregnancy.
  • More frequent in the western world; in countries with high hygienic standards.
  • Less frequent in children whose parents are farmers and have lifestock.
  • Less frequent in the younger siblings.
  • Less frequent in families that have a dog.

In children and teenagers the attacks are most often provoked by dust, animal hair, fungal particles or pollen. It turns out that children are particularly sensitive towards air pollution and increased levels of ozone to which they react with worsening of symptoms. Children who are often exposed to chlorine-containing water in swimming pools seems to have a higher risk of becoming asthmatic. In theory, many different agents can provoke the immune system and cause hypersensitivity.

Researchers have found a gene on chromosome 12 which makes one susceptible to asthma, caused by environmental factors.

Asthma can be divided into two major groups:

Congenital asthma is predominantly caused by allergy. This type is the best known, and the etiology can be determined by a dermatologist or a specialist in allergic diseases. The specialist can determine the agents that cause allergic reactions by use of an allergy test.

The other type is not caused by allergy, but can be elicited by chronic infection in the upper airways, by toxic agents, chemicals, and even large emotional upsets.

Asthma and antibiotics
In recent years there has been increasing attention paid to the development of asthma after the use of antibiotics, but also to the growth of candidia fungus which may follow a treatment of antibiotics. It has been realized, that children less than one year of age who are treated with antibiotics, have twice the risk of developing asthma, than do children who are not treated with antibiotics. In children who receive several rounds of antibiotic treatment, the risk is increased further. Broad-spectrum antibiotics are in this case worse than narrow-spectrum, just like children who have a predisposition are more at risk than those without.

A British investigation has directed some suspicion to the Whooping cough vaccine as a potential cause of the development of asthma in children. This suspicion has, however, not yet been confirmed.

Food intolerance also seems to play an important role in asthma and is always worth considering. Experience shows that the symptoms can be immediate or delayed according to the food in question. Typically, foodstuffs like eggs, fish, shellfish, and nuts will cause immediate reactions while foodstuffs like milk, chocolate, wheat, citrus fruits, and colouring agents will cause delayed reactions.

Some people believe that the immature immune system of the young child is dependent on the stimulation of regular, mild infections and stress factors for achieving sufficient encoding of the immune system, so that in the future the system will neither under- nor overreact to the agents that can cause asthma. Both exposure to too many and not enough allergens in early childhood can, therefore, cause disease.

Some asthma patients do not produce enough gastric acid. In addition, the mucosa of the intestinal canal can be leaky, giving way for diffusion of non- or partially catabolized foodstuffs into the bloodstream. This can lead to overstraining of the immune system and incorrect responses of the immune system with reactions towards the uncatabolized alient foodstuffs.

Recommendations

General advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".

Asthma symptoms in breast-fed babies can often be eliminated within a few weeks if the mother follows an exclusion diet.

Seek to remove or as far as possible avoid provocative allergens in the surroundings. For some, it may be neccesary to move to another accomodation. Avoid cigarette smoke; both your own and that of others.

Follow a healthy diet and make sure to eat fresh fruits and lots of vegetables every day. Avoid eating seeds and nuts on account of their high content of omega 6 fatty acids. Walnuts and flaxseed, however, contain omega 3 fatty acids which are beneficial if suffering from asthma. Make sure not to eat too much salt. The following study documents that diet changes can have a beneficial effect on asthma.

A minor long-term study of the effects of a vegan diet (entirely free of animal products) on the severity of the symptoms of asthma patients showed an improvement of the condition in 92% of the 25 people who went through with the experiment. Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, apples, citrus fruits, coffee, ordinary tea, chocolate, sugar, and salt were excluded from the diet. Herbal seasoning was allowed. Potatoes and corn products were either excluded or only allowed in small quantities.
The participants were given herbal tea or pure water to drink.

A cure like this one has to be followed for at least 4 months before the effect can be determined. Fish like salmon, mackerel, hering, and Greenland halibut are beneficial because of their content of Omega 3 fatty acids.

One should also supplement with the recommended herbs. Also drink green tea every day as it has a strengthening effect and a high content of antioxidants.

In many cases, it will be a good idea to consult a nutritional expert who can identify any problematic foods and make an individually adjusted food- or diet program.

Never exercise until 3 hours after a meal. Do not perform heavy exercise. Take 1 g. of vitamin C before exercise. Swimming is a good way for asthmatics to work out.

You should seek to stimulate and strengthen your immune system. Reflexology, acupuncture, and other therapy forms that strengthen and regulate the immune system are recommended.

Beneficial minerals and vitamins:

Always take a basic multivitamin-mineral supplement and then supplement if necessary with the products below.

  • Vitamin B6: Reduces both the number and the severity of the asthma attacks. Asthmatics also often have manganese deficiency.
  • Vitamin C: During the acute attack, vitamin C can be taken in large doses until the signs of gastro-intestinal side-effects occur.
  • Magnesium: Supplement can cause bronchial dilation. Experiments have shown that teenagers who were given a daily supplement of 300 mg magnesium had fewer asthma attacks. Can be taken together with medication, if necessary. The effect should be evaluated during the course of a few months. Adults can benefit from a double dose.

Beneficial herbs:

  • Bitter-sweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) Can be used in order to milden the symptoms of asthma and chronic bronchitis.
  • Ginseng (Panax ginseng):
  • Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica): Tea has purifying effects.
  • Garlic (Allium sativum): Stimulates the immune system.
  • Marjoram (Origanum vulgar): Has a good effect on asthma and bronchitis.
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Has strong bacteriostatic and fortifying effects. It is also effective against hay fever, especially in children.

Warnings

The symptoms of asthma patients are seldom relieved by use of Echinacea remedies since they can disturb the balance between cyclic AMP and GMP.

Bitter-sweet Nightshade is toxic in large doses and it should only be administered under the advicement of a professional phytotherapist.

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not take more than  6000 - 8000  I.U. of vitamin A a day.

Remarks

Also see "Allergy", "Bronchitis and Asthmatic bronchitis", "Coughing", and "Food allergy", "Food intolerance", "Hay fever".

Relevant Articles