Asthma is primarily an inflammatory respiratory condition triggered by various stimuli. Asthma sufferers experience breathing problems due to constriction of their airways. This constriction is characterised by wheezing, coughing and excessive mucus production.

Often children have a history of eczema that has been treated with steroids, the eczema may eventually resolve, only to develop, rhinitis (a runny, congested nose) and asthma. These children then grow up into adults and develop allergic rhinitis (an allergic inflammation of the respiratory airways). This progression from eczema to allergic rhinitis has been termed “the allergic march”.

The Allergic March

(Diagram courtesy of LEAP Study, Evelina Children’s Hospital, London)

Asthma Triggers

People have different asthma triggers, which cause constriction of the airways, inflammation and excessive mucus production. Children are particularly sensitive to food and viral triggers. The most common triggers are:

  • Infections, colds and ‘flu’
  • Exercise
  • Some foods and food preservatives, flavourings and colourings
  • Inhaled allergens – e.g. pollens, moulds, animal hair, dust mites, airborne chemicals, pesticides and cigarette smoke
  • Changes in temperature and weather – hot, cold or dry air
  • Bowel toxicity / digestive disturbances
  • Stress

Natural medicine recognises the role of inefficient digestion, poor immunity, stress, diet, and unhealthy mucous membranes in the development of the asthma.

Any treatment aimed only at relaxing airways and relieving symptoms, be it orthodox or herbal, is superficial and will not change the chronic nature of asthma.

Dietary & Lifestyle Recommendations

Studies have shown that many asthmatics have food sensitivities to egg, fish, shellfish, nuts, milk, chocolate, wheat, citrus fruit and food colouring.

The best way to determine which foods an individual may be reacting to is to do an Elimination Diet. This involves removal of the common artificial and natural food allergens from the diet, for a period of two weeks. After two weeks, foods high in specific chemicals (salicylates, glutamates, amines, etc) are reintroduced in controlled quantities, and adverse reactions are noted.

Up to 60% of patients with broncho-constrictive symptoms reportedly develop symptoms as a result of food ingestion.

Asthmatic patients have a high incidence of hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) and indigestion. Acid reflux is a common problem in children with asthma and ear infections.

Addressing dietary and gastrointestinal issues are one of the most important first steps in the treatment of asthma.

Immune & Inflammatory Regulation

Poor immunity is an important factor in the susceptibility to recurrent infections and a common finding in children and adults with asthma and obstructive bronchitis.

 Immune and Anti-inflammatory Options

Compared to orthodox medicine, this is an area that natural medicine has always excelled in being able to boost an individual’s natural immunity.

Albizzia lebek is a herb with anti-allergic properties, traditionally for respiratory diseases, including asthma and allergic rhinitis (hay fever).

Perilla frutescens is an anti-allergy herb that supports a healthy immune system.

Astragalus membranaceaus is an immune stimulating herb traditionally used for centuries in China, having antiviral activity. It helps to reduce the severity of asthma and is beneficial in times of stress.

A specific combination of three herbs, RosemaryOlive leaf and Hops has been scientifically shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect, decreasing the activity of immune cells that cause airway swelling.

Vitamin C acts as a anti-histamine and stabilises mast cells, thus helping to reduce the allergic response. Low vitamin C has been associated with lung dysfunction. Asthmatics have low vitamin C levels in the fluid of their lung. Prophylactic administration of ascorbic acid for exercise induced asthma produces beneficial effects. Children, who eat fruits high in vitamin C, like kiwi fruit and citrus fruits, have a lower incidence of asthma.

Magnesium and calcium act as antagonists in bronchial smooth muscle contraction. Magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant in the airways. A British study found that low dietary magnesium was linked to a five-fold risk of asthma.  Magnesium deficiency increases the potential for bronchial spasms and constriction. Prolonged physical or emotional stress can cause magnesium deficiency by increasing the excretion of magnesium in urine.

British and NZ studies have linked higher dietary selenium to a lower frequency of asthma. Children with lower blood selenium levels were more likely to have asthma than those with normal selenium levels.

Bromelain, an extract of pineapple reduces inflammation associated with asthma.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils are anti-inflammatory. EPA and DHA found in fish oils are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects.

Asthma can be eased effectively long term by recognising that poor digestion, poor immunity, diet, stress and weak mucous membranes are strong contributors to the symptoms and severity of asthma.

The sooner asthma is treated by a trained practitioner the easier it is to decrease and eliminate the reliance on orthodox medications and their potential long-term side effects.