Natural Remedies for Asthma

By Elizabeth J. Hall

Asthma is a chronic disease that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs. Unfortunately, asthma afflicts 300 million people worldwide. It usually requires prescribed medicine. The good news is that there are some lifestyle interventions that can help you control it better.

Avoid high-fat meals. Why? Individuals with asthma who consume a high-fat meal show increased airway inflammation just hours after the binge. A high-fat meal also appeared to inhibit the response to the asthma reliever medication Ventolin (albuterol).(1)

Eat fiber, especially insoluble fiber. Insoluble dietary fiber plays a vital role in the immune system. The fiber in the diet increases the level of short chain fatty acids. These beneficial fatty acids help to reduce inflammation.(2)  Bacteria and fungi in the gastrointestinal tract can intensify the immune system’s reaction to common allergens (like pollen or animal dander) in the lungs and increase the risk of developing chronic allergies or asthma.(3)  As long as the balance of gut microflora remains stable, tolerance to allergens continues. But anything that alters this intestinal balance – taking antibiotics, NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs), switching from breast milk to formula, eating a high-sugar, low-fat diet — interferes with the balance of gut bacteria so that friendly bacteria are suppressed and unfriendly bacteria multiply. Fiber encourages favorable conditions so the friendly bacteria can increase and curtail inflammation.

Check your diet for adequacy. A low dietary intake of fruit, vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to decreased lung function and a greater risk of chronic bronchitis symptoms and asthma. These risks are further increased among students with these lowest intakes, and who also smoked.(4)

A low dietary intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients and phytochemicals enhances the likelihood of respiratory symptoms such as asthma, especially in teens who smoke. Research shows that higher intakes of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory micronutrients are linked to lower reports of coughing, respiratory infections, and less severe asthma-related symptoms.(5) Remember that the anti-oxidant nutrients such as vitamins D, E, C, riboflavin, and zinc work in synergy with the anti-oxidant compounds found in whole foods. A supplement may help but it does not contain the broad variety of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that whole fruits and vegetables do. Smoking and sugar consumption lower the antioxidant level in the body.

Omega-3 fats, such as found in chia and flaxseed, provide some protection. Taking certain omega-3 fatty acid supplements during pregnancy can reduce the risk of childhood asthma by almost one third.(6)

Stay away from junk foods. Limit your intake of processed foods. A high level of soft drink consumption is associated with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.(7) Fortunately, a high fiber diet reduces the cravings for junk food.

People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher. Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items utilized in the production of fast food. Accumulating research suggests that these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food. Previous studies have shown a link between high-molecular-weight phthalates and allergic disease development. Epidemiological studies have also shown that exposure to house dust containing several of these chemicals is associated with asthma and allergic disease.(8)(9)

Lose weight if obese. Extensive research shows that obesity can cause narrowing of the airways in the lungs. Studies show the prevalence of asthma is higher by 38% in overweight patients and by 92% in obese patients.(10) When obesity develops in people with asthma, it aggravates the breathing disorder. Obese patients with asthma also get more acute attacks, need more asthma medication, need more frequent visits to the emergency department, and have more hospital admissions than non-obese patients with asthma.(11)  Weight loss may be a useful strategy to reduce the severity or reverse asthma in obese individuals.(12)

Check your vitamin D level. Low blood levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of asthma attacks in children and adults with asthma. The Cochrane Review has found evidence from randomized trials that taking an oral vitamin D supplement in addition to standard asthma medication is likely to reduce severe asthma attacks. Vitamin D supplementation significantly reduced the rate of asthma attacks needing treatment with steroid tablets.(13)

Learn how to manage stress.  Several studies have linked symptoms of depression to asthma. Stress and depression aggravate asthma. Focusing on and enjoying what you actually can do, instead of fretting on what you can’t do, helps. Cultivating a regular schedule for meals, retiring and waking up helps to improve one’s overall health. Therapeutic massage can help reduce stress and relax the muscles that assist in breathing.

Get tested. Pollen is not the only cause of asthma. Food allergies can provoke asthma too. You want to avoid any dietary triggers.

Reviewed by P.S. on Mar. 15, 2017

References:

  1. American Thoracic Society. “High-fat meals a no-no for asthma patients, researchers find.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100516195534.htm>.
  2. American College of Chest Physicians. “Can An Apple A Day Keep Asthma Away? Poor Diets Show Increased Respiratory Symptoms In Teens.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 July 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070709171707.htm>.
  3. Linköping Universitet. “Intestinal diversity protects against asthma.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 October 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161010052647.htm>.
  4. Hans Bisgaard, Fish Oil–Derived Fatty Acids in Pregnancy and Wheeze and Asthma in Offspring. New England Journal of Medicine, 2016; 375 (26): 2530 DOI: 1056/NEJMoa1503734
  5. Arteaga-Solis E. Inhibition of Leptin Regulation of Parasympathetic Signaling as a Cause of Extreme Body Weight-Associated Asthma. Cell Metabolism, Jan 2013 DOI: 1016/j.cmet.2012.12.004
  6. Bisgaard, Hans. Fish Oil–Derived Fatty Acids in Pregnancy and Wheeze and Asthma in Offspring. New England Journal of Medicine, 2016; 375 (26): 2530 DOI: 1056/NEJMoa1503734
  7. Shi Zumin. Association between soft drink consumption and asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among adults in Australia. Respirology, 2012; 17 (2): 363 DOI: 1111/j.1440-1843.2011.02115.x
  8. George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. “Fast food may expose consumers to harmful chemicals called phthalates.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160413083833.htm>.
  9. Tillet T. Phthalates and Childhood Asthma: Revealing an Association through Urinary Biomarkers. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/121-a59/.
  10. Mandal A. Obesity and Respiratory Disorders. http://www.news-medical.net/health/Obesity-and-respiratory-disorders.aspx
  11. Mandal A. Obesity and Respiratory Disorders. http://www.news-medical.net/health/Obesity-and-respiratory-disorders.aspx
  12. American College of Chest Physicians. “Weight loss in obese adults can reduce severity of asthma.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 June 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150608144217.htm>.
  13. “High quality evidence suggests Vitamin D can reduce asthma attacks.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 September 2016.

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