Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc
A new generation of children with asthma calls for natural treatments. It is tragically common these days to see children-and adults-puffing onsmall blue puffers or wheezing for breath during exercise. Natural health supplements and herbs are simple nutritional additions to the diet that can help.
It is tragically common these days to see children and adults puffing on small blue puffers or wheezing for breath during exercise. Since 1980, the prevalence and incidence of asthma has increased by 80 percent.
It affects at least five percent of the population and is most common in children under 10, with boys affected twice as often as girls. Asthma is now the major cause of school absenteeism for children under 15 years of age in North America and can be a potentially life-threatening condition. In fact, the mortality rate from asthma has increased by 300 percent since 1980.
What exactly is this health problem that affects a high percentage of our youth? Asthma is a hypersensitivity condition of the lungs associated with spasm of the bronchial tubes, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and excessive production of bronchial mucous. There are basically two types of asthma:
Most asthmatics have a blend of the two types, the extrinsic type being more common. Asthma prescription inhalers ("puffers") and pills provide temporary relief but do nothing to halt the progression of the disease and may actually hasten it. Most conventional medical treatments of asthma do not address the underlying cause(s) and are generally aimed at symptom suppression.
So what are these underlying causes? Most experts say the rise in incidence is due to air pollution, increasing chemicals in the diet and the weakening of the immune system by antibiotics, fluoride, chloride, lead, mercury and other toxins. Some of the sources of these toxins include chemical household products, wood preservatives, floor and wall treatments, carpets, rugs, drapes and furniture made of synthetics.
Less commonly known reasons are aspartame consumption and vaccines (especially hepatitis B, chickenpox and the flu shot) containing mercury, formaldehyde, aluminum, foreign genetic material and other potential toxins. Still other reasons for increasing asthma rates are a relative increase in indoor house mite infestation and natural gas from furnaces, water heaters
and stoves that generate nitric oxide residues. Some authors have also questioned the connection between rising asthma rates and the increased use of the microwave oven, a cooking tool capable of creating never-before-seen molecules of unknown toxicity. The same can be said for the ever-increasing availability of genetically engineered foods, many containing the DNA of other species of plants and animals.
Asthma prescription inhalers ('puffers') and pills provide temporary relief but do nothing to halt the progression of the disease and may actually hasten it.
A practical treatment to start with is to ensure your child drinks plenty of fluids to loosen bronchial secretions. Avoid chlorinated or fluoridated tap water. Use a vaporizer with added eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree oil or oil of oregano.
If possible, get food allergy testing done via an elimination-provocation procedure (described in my book, Childhood Illness and The Allergy Connection (alive Books, 1997) or Dr. William Crook's Tracking Down Hidden Food Allergies (Professional Books, 1980). Alternative ways of testing are blood tests that measure antibodies or immune complexes to specific foods. Usually reliable tests for this are the IgG RAST and ELISA tests. Environmental allergies (dust, grasses, trees, pollens) can best be determined by skin testing done by an allergist. Generally, the younger an asthma patient, the more the allergen triggers are likely to be foods. The older a patient, the more likely the allergens are environmental inhalants.
Asthmatics should avoid sugar and white flour because of the negative effects of these products on the immune system. Decrease consumption of foods with arachadonic acid (red meat and dairy products) because of their inflammatory, acid-forming effects. Also, eliminate food additives like tartrazine, sodium benzoate, sulfur dioxide and all sulphites (sodium bisulphite, potassium metabisulphite, potassium bisulphite). Add raw vegetables and fruits that are alkaline, such as avocados, melons and leafy greens.
At least 80 percent of asthmatics produce too little hydrochloric acid in their stomachs. In these cases asthma can be improved by supplementing acid (glutamic acid, betaine and pepsin hydrochloride, stomach bitters and other digestive enzyme supplements). Many asthmatics also have poor pancreatic function and inadequate secretion of digestive enzymes. As a result, high protein foods may not be digested completely and, when absorbed into the bloodstream, may evoke an allergic reaction such as wheezing. This is especially the case if the individual suffers from what is called "leaky gut syndrome," in which there are microscopic-sized perforations in the usually intact gut lining. A repair program using supplements such as L-glutamine, gamma oryzanol (from rice bran oil), bioflavonoids and other potent antioxidants can be implemented.
Asthma is now the major cause of school absenteeism for children under 15 in North America and can be a potentially life-threatening condition. In fact, the mortality rate from asthma has increased by 300 per cent since 1980.
Eat foods that reduce inflammation and open up the bronchi: garlic, onions, leeks, turnips, endive, green leafy vegetables, carrots, celery, spinach, horseradish, daikon, apricots, cherries, elderberries, grapes, pineapple, figs, papaya, mango, lemon and honey, foods high omega-3 and -6 fatty acids such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flax seed oil, evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil, borage oil, and sprouted seeds and grains.
Avoid known food allergies and mucous-forming foods: cow's milk and other dairy products, white bread, sugar and other refined or processed carbohydrates, chocolates, salty and fried foods, foods high in arachadonic acid such as beef, pork and cold cuts, canola oil, corn oil, peanuts, pistachios and margarine.
Supplements to Consider
The following natural supplements and herbs are simple nutritional additions to the diet, while others may require the guidance of your natural health-care practitioner. When choosing supplements, ask the nutritional products advisor of your health food store to help you make the right choices for your child's individual needs.
Essential fatty acids - Fish oils (cold-water fish such as cod, halibut, herring, sardines, salmon and trout), hemp seed oil, evening primrose oil, flax seed oil, borage oil and black currant seed oil have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and can reduce or eliminate asthmatic symptoms through their omega-3 content.
Vitamin B12 injections - Dr. Jonathan Wright has shown that daily vitamin B12 shots will reverse asthma, especially in children. The exact mechanism is unknown.
Vitamin C - Asthmatics have been shown to have lower serum levels of vitamin C as well as lower levels of white blood cells.
Herbal and Other Natural Remedies
Olbas oil - This Swiss blend of natural aromatic oils provides fast-acting relief, clearing the nasal passages and bronchial airways. Antispasmodic and antiseptic.
Astragalus - boosts immunity and lung strength; boosts interferon production, thereby helping to reduce the number of infectious episodes.
Herbal expectorants - lobelia, licorice root, grindelia, euphorbia, sundew and senega help clear irritants from airways.
Chinese skullcap (Scuttalaria baicalensis) - an anti-inflammatory herb high in bioflavonoids, which stabilize the mast cell membranes and help prevent histamine release caused by allergens.
Elecampane - effective as a cough remedy but also has anti-microbial properties.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) - works to reduce inflammation and asthmatic symptoms due to its ability to prolong the half-life of the body's own cortisone.
Curcumin - the yellow pigment of tumeric (Curcuma longa) is an anti-inflammatory agent comparable to cortisone, ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Forskolin - is a derivative of the herb Coleus forskoli and has been found to be a good natural bronchodilator. It does this by inhibiting the release of pro-inflammatory compounds and inhibiting smooth muscle contraction in the airways.
Garlic and onions - high in vitamin C and quercetin, they inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals called leukotrienes.
Probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus bacteria) - friendly bacteria that help prevent colonization of the gastrointestinal tract with unfriendly/pathogenic microbes such as candida and parasites.
Thyme - antispasmodic and immunity booster.
Echinacea - natural antibiotic and immune system modulator.
Asthma can best be treated by using a combination of conventional and natural therapies as needed. The natural approaches are most applicable in the prevention of wheezing attacks and associated infections, while conventional therapies should be reserved for serious, acute situations only. See a natural health-care practitioner for a personalized regime.
Asthma is a hypersensitivity condition of the lungs associated with spasm of the bronchial tubes, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and excessive production of bronchial mucous.