By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
I got a call from my son last week – something I usually enjoy. But my joy soon turned to worry when he told me he had just spent the last eight hours in the emergency room because he was short of breath. The diagnoses? Asthma.
As my son quickly learned, asthma isn’t just for kids. Despite its reputation as a childhood disease, it’s common among adults. In fact, about 15 million adults have it, compared with 7 million children. And asthma isn’t just more common in adults – it’s potentially more serious.
Waiting to Inhale
Asthma is a chronic condition in which the airway undergoes changes triggered by allergens or environmental irritants. Pollen, dust, smoke, pet dander and insect feces are the most common culprits, but food allergies can also trigger an attack. The most frequent dietary offenders are dairy, wheat, corn, soy and citrus fruits.
Whatever the cause, asthma can send your respiratory tract into overdrive, causing your airway to go into hyper-reactive mode where the smooth muscles constrict and narrow in response to the inhaled irritants. This is followed by an inflammatory response, which causes the airways to swell and fill with fluid. This double-whammy produces wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, rapid heartbeat and a thick, sticky mucous. It can also cause panic as you fight for every breath.
While this sounds all too familiar to most people who suffer from asthma, not everyone has these classic symptoms. Instead, they might experience rapid breathing, sighing, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and a chronic cough without the wheeze. To complicate matters even more, the symptoms aren’t always consistent and can vary from time to time. Frustrating? You bet!
Since asthma can be so hard to pin down, it’s best to get a diagnosis from your doctor. He or she will run a battery of pulmonary function tests that may include a spirometry that measures how much and how fast you can blow air out of your lungs and a methacholine challenge test. During this test, an agent is used that causes the airways to spasm and narrow if asthma is present. You may also undergo a chest x-ray or allergy testing.
Although asthma can’t be cured, it can be effectively managed and most people can lead active, normal lives. But drugs aren’t the answer. Yes, they do offer temporary relief. But they don’t address the underlying issues and can be dngerous on a long-term basis. Of course, you can’t tell that to most physicians. So, true to form, the doctor loaded my son up with inhalers, steroids and long-term drugs to manage inflammation. I, on the other hand, headed for the health food store.
The first supplement that landed in my shopping cart was one I’ve told you about many times before. Fish oil has long been used to treat inflammatory disease, so it’s a natural for asthma. In one study, researchers discovered that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish suppress the chemical triggers that result in inflammation.
Another study found that supplementing with 3.3 grams of fish oil a day markedly reduced breathing difficulties and other symptoms in asthma patients. More recently, finding in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine show that just three weeks of supplementing with fish oil capsules markedly reduces the severity of exercise-induced asthma in athletes.
Up Your Antioxidants
Next I headed for the antioxidants. Indian scientists who conducted an extensive chemical analysis of blood samples from people with asthma say that beefing up antioxidant levels may help thwart symptoms of the lung disease. Topping the list is Vitamin E. A survey of more than 2,600 adults with both asthma and allergies found that those consuming the most vitamin E had significantly fewer allergic reactions that triggered asthma attacks.
Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that may help dampen asthma symptoms. A large preliminary study has shown that young children with asthma experience significantly less wheezing if they eat a diet high in fruits rich in vitamin C. Other studies have found that simply supplementing with vitamin C can have a major impact on the frequency and severity of attacks. In one double-blind trial, supplementing with 1,000 mg. of vitamin C every day reduced the tendency of the bronchial passages to go into spasm.
Quercetin, a flavonoid in many fruits and vegetables, can also help asthmatics because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. In a large study of more than 10,000 people, Finish researchers found that those who ate more foods rich in quercetin were less likely to suffer from a number of chronic diseases, including asthma. Based on this, some doctors are currently experimenting with 400 to 1,000 mg. of quercetin three times a day.
One Last Thing …
By arming my son with these natural alternatives, I’m optimistic that he can control his asthma and continue to enjoy his active, athletic lifestyle. Of course, along with supplementation, he’ll also have to make a few lifestyle changes – especially at the dinner table.
According to a new study by researchers at Indiana University, reducing the amount of salt you consume for just two weeks can alter airway inflammation and the flow of oxygen into the bloodstream. The study included 24 people with asthma and exercise-induced asthma. Some of the study volunteers were put on a low-salt diet. Others were put on a high-salt diet containing about the same amount of sodium most American’s eat on a daily basis. At the end of two weeks, the volunteers on the high-salt diet showed a dramatic decline in lung function after physical activity compared to the low-salt group. They also had more inflammation and higher levels of airway cells in their sputum.
What can you use instead of salt? Try a dash of flavorful herbs, garlic or lemon juice. Once you begin reducing the amount of salt you use, you just might discover how good your food really tastes.
Research Brief …
Ok girls, listen up! Every two minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2005, it’s estimated that about 212,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed, along with 58,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. And 40,000 women are expected to die from this disease. Do I have your attention yet?
Fortunately, what you eat may help to reverse those statistics. New evidence, presented at the U.S. Defense Department’s ‘Era of Hope’ Breast Cancer Research Program in Philadelphia suggests that the curry spice, tumeric not only helps to prevent breast cancer, it can stop the disease from progressing.
Cauliflower may be another powerful tool in the fight against breast cancer. Scientists at the University of Urbino have discovered that the compounds in cauliflower suppress the spread of cancer cells – and this wonderful winter vegetable has a particular preference for targeting breast cancer cells.
So whether you are trying to prevent breast cancer or are in the throws of this insidious disease, adding a teaspoon of tumeric to soups, sauces, stews and casseroles may just be the easiest, most delicious cancer treatment you’ve ever tried.
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Broughton, K. Shane, et al. “Reduced asthma symptoms with n-3 fatty acid ingestion are related to 5-series leukotriene production.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1997; 65:1011-1017.
Fogarty A, Lewis S, Weiss S, Britton J, et al. “Dietary vitamin E, IgE concentrations, and atopy.” The Lancet. 2000;356:1573-1574.
Knekt P, Kumpulainen J, Jarvinen R, et al. “Flavonoid intake and risk of chronic diseases.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2002 Sep;76(3):560-568.
Nadeem A. “Antioxidant supplements could ease asthma symptoms.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2003;111:72-78.
Wong KW. “Clinical efficacy of n-3 fatty acid supplementation in patients with asthma.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005;105:98-105.