34 million Americans now have asthma, about 7-8 million of which are children. (01) Asthma is behind 12.8 million missed school days and 10.1 million missed work days in the U.S every single year! (02) In addition, asthma costs the U.S about $14.7 billion a year in medical costs, prescription drugs and lost productivity.
Here’s something that might surprise you: although asthma medications can help control symptoms in the case of an emergency attack, they can actually sometimes make symptoms even worse long-term. Most asthma medications also have a host of side effects− due to how they affect the endocrine system and the immune system. Research shows some asthma drugs might contribute to problems including mood changes, acne, yeast growth and weight gain, plus over time they might hinder normal immune functions that make allergic and asthmatic reactions more frequent. (03)
What are some effective, holistic ways of treating asthma that can help prevent attacks instead? Natural asthma treatments that don’t require taking prescription medications or even using inhalers include: limiting irritant exposure, reducing food allergies, improving gut health, supplementing with vitamin D or getting more naturally from the sun, and maintaining a healthy weight.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition characterized by difficulty breathing and narrowing of the airways leading to the lungs (including the nose, nasal passageways, mouth and larynx). In people who have asthma or allergies, the blocked or inflamed airways that cause asthma symptoms can usually be cleared with help from certain lifestyle changes and treatments.
Asthma is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is also related to allergies, whether seasonal/environmental or food-related. A characteristic of asthma is that symptoms tend to occur suddenly in response to stimuli that irritate the immune system and air passageways, which is described as having an asthma “attack”.
Common symptoms and signs of asthma include: (04)
- Sneezing and coughing
- Wheezing, including sounds emanating from your chest as you try to breath
- Running out of air as you try to speak or inhale
- Difficulty exercising
- Pressure and tightness in the chest
- During attacks it’s possible to show signs of poor circulation and oxygen, including having blue or purple colored toes and fingers or skin changes
- Feeling light headed, dizzy and weak
- Symptoms of anxiety such as sweating and rapid heartbeats
- Symptoms similar to those caused by allergies, such as watery and red eyes, itchy throat, or a runny nose. Some people can look inside their throat or nose and see redness and swelling.
- Swollen glands and puffy lymph nodes in the neck. Sometimes people with asthma even feel like they’re choking.
- Dry mouth, especially if you begin breathing through the mouth more often instead of the nose.
What Causes Asthma?
There are many different theories about what causes asthma, but toxins and irritants (both from the environment and spending lots of time outdoors) are now recognized as primary root causes. Other factors that contribute to asthma development include: poor nutrition, pollution, antibiotic abuse, possibly vaccines, autoimmune disorders, other medical disorders that affect the lungs, genetic susceptibility and high amounts of stress.
For some adults, asthma symptoms are caused by exposure to chemicals and pollution during work (dust, debris, etc.), known as “occupational asthma”. This accounts for about 15 percent of all asthma cases. (05)
The Western lifestyle correlates with increased numbers of asthma-sufferers, which is not surprising considering the poor diet quality and high-stress environment. Asthma is rare in remote areas of Asia and Africa, but much more common in industrialized, western nations where people commonly eat inflammatory, low-nutrient diets.
Risk factors for developing asthma include: (06)
- Spending lots of time indoors: This can reduce someone’s ability to effectively build their immune system and also increases exposure to certain allergens or irritants that can accumulate indoors (like dust mites, mold spurs, pet hair, and other microbes).
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Obesity, allergies and other medical conditions that affect the lungs and cause low immunity
- Sometimes childhood infections can affect lung tissue and cause the airways to narrow or become inflamed.
- Genetics: Studies show that asthma tends to run in families, although it is usually isn’t completely genetically acquired.
- Poor posture: Compression of the lungs caused from poor posture might also contribute to symptoms.
- Exposure to environmental toxins: This can include fumes, pollution, and chemicals released from construction sites.
Conventional Treatments For Asthma
Doctors use medications like anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, “anti-IgE” drugs and inhalers (bronchodilators) to help control asthma attacks and prevent emergencies or complications. Most of these drugs can help to open up the airways very quickly, but have serious drawbacks as well. Some research even suggests that inhalant albuterol medications can alter genes in children and make future asthma attacks up to 30 percent more likely. (07)
Dr. John Mills, chief of infectious diseases at San Francisco General, has said that, “Conventional drugs used for treating asthma, particularly steroids, can impair immune function and lead to more serious health problems. Doctors tell you that steroids (cortisone, prednisone) only cause side effects after many years. But new research shows that permanent damage is immediate and devastating. Studies show that steroids cause permanent, debilitating effects after a single dosage. Steroids are probably the most sleazy of modern day medications.” (08)
Here’s the good news: you can help treat asthma naturally by lowering environmental and dietary toxin intake, eating more nutrient-rich foods, addressing the nervous system’s role in lung functioning, and learning to better manage stress.
Natural Asthma Treatments
1. Best Foods for Treating Asthma
Eating a healthy diet supplies asthma sufferers with antioxidants and nutrients to combat environmental toxins, control inflammatory responses and reduce dietary triggers. Eating a wide variety of foods can ensure that you or your child are getting all the nutrients that you need to support strong immunity. There have been numerous studies that show consuming the right foods can be the best form of natural asthma treatments.
Some of the most beneficial foods to include in your asthma diet plan are:
- Brightly colored carotenoid foods: This compound gives fruit and vegetables their orange or red color and can help reduce asthma attacks. Carotenoids are the basis of vitamin A which is involved in the maintenance of healthy mucous membranes that line the air passageways. Severity of asthma correlates with low vitamin A, so increase your intake of things like root veggies, sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy greens and berries. A study of 68,000 women showed that those who ate more tomatoes, carrots and leafy greens had much lower rates of asthma, and that people prone to asthma tended to have low levels of circulating carotenoids in their blood. (09)
- Foods with folate (vitamin B9): Folate reduces allergic reactions and inflammation. It might be capable of lowering wheezing by regulating inflammatory processes. (010) High folate foods include green leafy vegetables, beans and nuts.
- Vitamin E and Vitamin C foods: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and helps to detoxify the body, which is why some research suggests that consuming more vitamin C reduces wheezing and inflammation. Vitamin C is found is leafy greens, citrus fruits, cruciferous veggies and berries. Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant found in nuts, seeds and healthy plant oils.
- Foods with magnesium: Low levels of magnesium are associated with increased risk of developing asthma, and increasing magnesium has been shown to reduce severity of asthma attacks and symptoms like muscle spasming anxiety.It’s been found that magnesium can induce bronchial smooth muscle relaxation and allow air to get into and out of the lungs more easily. (011) Sources include greens, nuts, seeds, beans, cocoa and certain ancient grains.
- Broccoli, broccoli sprouts, brussel sprouts and other members of the cruciferous family: These contain many antioxidants and a key compound called sulforaphane. Researchers from UCLA have stated that “A major advantage of sulforaphane is that it appears to increase a broad array of antioxidant enzymes, which may help the compound’s effectiveness in blocking the harmful effects of air pollution. We found a two-to-three-fold increase in antioxidant enzymes in the nasal airway cells of study participants who had eaten a preparation of broccoli sprouts. This strategy may offer protection against inflammatory processes and could lead to potential treatments for a variety of respiratory conditions.” (012)
- Garlic, onions and mustard seeds: All are considered natural anti-microbials. They may help to fight bacterial infections and improve overall immune health. They also contain the antioxidant called quercetin, which inhibits inflammation.
- Raw milk and cultured dairy: Raw dairy seems to protect children from developing asthma and hayfever symptoms. (013) The healthy probiotics in raw milk strengthen the immune system and research shows that probiotic foods improve digestion and help stop allergic reactions that occur as proteins and other allergens pass through the digestive lining.. Mothers can prevent their children from developing asthma if they ingest probiotics while pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Prebiotics and high fiber foods: These plant fibers help us to eliminate toxins and feed healthy probiotic bacteria. Whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds and raw vegetables are loaded with prebiotic materials and great sources of fiber.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Mostly found in oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, orange roughy, salmon, trout and tuna. Nuts and seeds can also provide a good dose. These help lower the incidence of asthma significantly because omega-3’s reduce airway inflammation and immune system reactivity. (014)
- Foods with Vitamin B5 (or pantothenic acid): Needed in larger quantities by asthmatics because they seen unable to utilize this vitamin correctly. It’s also been found that Theophylline, a drug used to treat asthma, causes Vitamin B6 deficiency. Pantothenic acid is also involved in adrenal function and stress plays a large role in asthma.
2. Avoid Foods That Can Make Asthma Worse
There are many ways in which processed and refined foods contribute to asthma. Lack of fiber reduces probiotic bacteria, depletes stomach acid and hinders proper digestion. The lack of nutrients in these foods stresses the entire body and makes it less able to neutralize toxins. The lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in the Western diet contributes to high levels of inflammation, deficiencies and overall poor nutrition.
Foods to reduce or eliminate from your diet include conventional dairy, added sugar, transfats or refined oils, gluten and processed carbohydrates.
- Children who eat foods fried in refined/processed vegetable oils and consume hydrogenated fats are much more likely to have asthma. These trans-fats contribute to the presence of dangerous free radicals in the body.
- Children who are bottle-fed with powdered and pasteurized infant formulas are significantly more at risk of developing asthma and allergies than those who are breastfed.
- The high-sugar content in many processed foods contributes to the overgrowth of yeast or Candida albicans. Yeast can be a trigger itself, but worse, it steals valuable nutrients from the digestive tract.
- Hidden food allergies are often triggers for asthma attacks. The most common food allergies are to pasteurized milk products, gluten, soy, eggs and nuts. Wheat gluten and soy are present in a wide variety of foods. They hide on labels as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lecithin, starch and vegetable oil.
- Food preservatives and food coloring can trigger asthma attacks. Avoid MSG, tartrazine (yellow food dye), sulfites and sulfur dioxide to name just a few.
- Avoid animal products treated with hormones and antibiotics as well as pasteurized foods and drinks. Farm-raised fish is laden with these chemicals and have high mercury levels that correlate with increased incidence of asthma.
3. Supplements For Asthma (Especially Vitamin D)
Vitamin D: Another rising star in the treatment of asthma is Vitamin D, which seems to slow declining lung function and supports immune health. It also stops lung “remodeling”, the narrowing of breathing passages over time. Calcitriol, the form of Vitamin D we make in the body, is a natural anti-inflammatory, yet many people are chronically low in vitamin D due to spending less time outside and eating a low-nutrient diet. The daily recommended dose is about 600 IU for adults which can be obtained through a combination of sun exposure and a healthy diet.
Recently a study published in the Cochran Database of Systematic Reviews, which tested 435 children and 658 adults with mild to moderate asthma, found that those taking vitamin D supplements experienced fewer severe asthma attacks, required less use of oral steroids for treatment, and also reduced their risk of needing to be hospitalized for acute asthma attacks. (015)
Other supplements which can help lower attacks and symptoms include:
- Vitamins C: Increases immunity and acts like an antioxidant, reducing free radical damage and inflammation.
- B Vitamins: Helps support cognitive functions and immune health. Vitamin B3 and vitamin B12 have been found to be low in asthma patients, but are nutrients that lower antihistamine levels and reduce wheezing.
- Zinc: Supports adrenal health and aids the body in coping with stress, which has been tied to worsened asthma symptoms.
- Magnesium: Can help reduce asthma symptom severity including pain, anxiety and emotional stress.
4. Essential Oils For Treating Asthma Symptoms
Many people with asthma frequently cough, wheeze and have trouble breathing, all of which essential oils can help manage. As mucus (phlegm or sputum) or other substances accumulate in the airways, these symptoms kick in as reflexive actions that try to facilitate unobstructed breathing.
Try making a homemade vapor rub with eucalyptus and peppermint essential oil to open up airways. Frankinense oil can be used to lower inflammation and swollen lymph nodes, and lavender can be used to help mitigate symptoms such as anxiety and mood changes.
5. Other Remedies For Asthma
- Avoid Irritants Inside Your Home: There might not be much you can do about pollution outdoors, but minimizing pollutants in your home will greatly lessen susceptibility to outdoor asthma attacks. Believe it or not, the EPA tells us our indoor environments are two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environments! Here are tips to help you remove many sources of irritants that are likely found in your home:
- Try to keep a window open even during the winter to bring fresh air in. If you can afford it, use a heat recovery ventilator (air-to-air heat exchanger) to bring outside air in.
- Avoid second-hand smoke from wood-burning stoves and cigarettes.
- Switch to natural household cleansers or use baking soda, lavender oil and vinegar to make your own. There are many simple recipes available online that can keep added chemicals out of your home and save you a bundle of money.
- Avoid aerosols and petroleum-based ingredients in your health and beauty products. Instead use natural products made from essential oils.
- Use a dehumidifier in damp areas and fix water leaks to reduce mold.
- Buy a water filter to remove chlorine from your tap water.
- Install flooring or carpets that you can vacuum beneath to reduce dust mites.
- Wash bedding weekly and keep upholstery and carpets regularly vacuumed.
- Use sheets and pillow cases that are non-allergenic and don’t contain down or feathers.
- Keep furry friends out of the bedroom to limit the amount of pest hair you’re exposed to. Clean and brush pets regularly to remove some of their fur that can wind up around your home.
- Cockroaches are another asthma trigger, so speak with a professional exterminator if you suspect you might have some in your home.
- Chiropractic Care for Asthma: Asthma has also been linked to a condition known as Forward Head Posture (FHP). FHP occurs when your head shifts out in front of your body, and as a result the nerves in the lower part of your neck and upper part of your back from Vertebrae T1-T4 become compressed and compromise lung function. To correct FHP, I recommend you seek the assistance of a corrective care Chiropractic physician who can help improve your posture through adjustments and spinal rehabilitation exercises. By retraining the spine and moving it back into its ideal alignment, pressure will be taken off the nerves reaching out to the lungs.
- Managing Stress: The Western lifestyle includes high degrees of emotional stress, and studies show that stress management techniques help reduce asthma severity. It is well known that stress increases the severity and frequency of asthmatic attacks because it hinders immune function and raises inflammation. In fact studies show that roughly 67 percent or more of asthmatics have diminished adrenal capacity, increased anxiety and other mood disorders related to stress. Mood disorders are considered “adaptive diseases”, that is, they result from a person’s inability to deal with stress.
- Try natural stress relievers including: massage, deep abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery and art therapies
- These can all help to reduce stress and give asthmatics the tools to modulate their stress response. This will lower susceptibility to future attacks and lessen reliance on asthma drugs.
- The British Guideline on the Management of Asthma recommends Buteyko and pranayama yoga (forms of deep breathing) for asthma management. A review of 7 studies found that these breathing exercises reduce the severity and length of asthma attacks.
- Exercise & Movement: A growing body of literature indicates that lifestyle changes in recent decades, specifically decreased physical activity and dietary changes, are key contributing factors causing an increase in asthma prevalence and severity. Obesity is linked to higher risk for asthma and other breathing problems, including sleep apnea. Although vigorous exercise can sometimes cause symptoms in people who already have asthma, staying active is generally very beneficial for improving immune function, preventing obesity, dealing with stress and lowering inflammation. (01)
Precautions When Treating Asthma
If during an attack asthma medications aren’t able to help someone experience improvements immediately then it’s important to visit the ER or call an ambulance right away. Although it’s rare, asthma attacks can sometimes become fatal, so being cautious is always best. Signs of a severe asthma attack that require immediate intervention include a pale face, sweating, blue lips, very rapid heartbeat and inability to exhale.
If asthma symptoms ever start recurring multiple times per day, make sure to see your doctor. Also mention to your doctor if symptoms ever become frequent or severe enough to interrupt sleep, work, school or other normal day-to-day activities. Keep an eye out for side effects of medications or other signs of allergies which might make asthma symptoms worse, including a very dry mouth, stuffy nose, dizziness, pains and a swollen tongue.
Final Thoughts On Natural Asthma Treatments
- Asthma is a condition that affects breathing which is caused by narrowed airways (bronchospasm), a swollen or inflamed respiratory system, and abnormal immune system reactions.
- Common symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and pain or pressure in the chest.
- Risk factors and underlying contributors of asthma include an inflammatory/poor diet, low immune function, food or seasonal allergies, and exposure to household or environmental irritants.
- Eliminating food allergies, spending more time outdoors, and avoiding exposure to pollution or irritants found inside the home are all natural treatments for asthma symptoms.