Asthma is a lung disorder in which spasms of the bronchialpassages restrict the flow of air in and out of the lungs. Thenumber of people with asthma and the death rate from thiscondition have been increasing since the late 1980s.
Environmental pollution may be one of the causes of thisgrowing epidemic.
Dietary and other natural therapies that may be
A vegan (pure vegetarian) diet given for one year
in conjunction with many specific dietary changes (such as
avoidance of caffeine, sugar, salt, and chlorinated tap
water) and combined with a variety of herbs and
supplements led to significant improvement in a group of
asthmatics.1 Although sixteen out of twenty-four people
who continued the intervention for the full year were much
better and one person was actually cured, it remains unclear
how much of the action waspurely a result of the dietary
changes compared with the many other therapies employed.
Although most people with asthma do not suffer from foodallergies,2 unrecognized food allergy can be anexacerbating factor.3 A medically supervised “allergyelimination diet” followed by reintroduction of theeliminated foods often helps identify problematic foods. Ahealthcare professional must supervise this allergy test,because there is a chance of triggering a severe asthmaattack during the reintroduction.4 Some asthmatics react to food additives, such as sulfites,tartrazine (yellow dye #5), aspirin, and aspirin-likesubstances found in foods called natural salicylates.5 6 Anutritionally oriented doctor or an allergist can helpdetermine whether chemical sensitivities are present.
Ionized air may also play a role in allergies. Researchsuggests that some allergy-provoking substances, such asdust and pollen, have a positive electrical charge.
Meanwhile, negative ions appear to counteract theallergenic actions of these positively charged ions onrespiratory tissues. Negative ions generally lead tofavorable actions, and many individuals experience relieffrom their respiratory allergies.7 Other allergy sufferersreport considerable relief, with a few allergy reactionsresolving completely, after negative ion therapy. Themajority of allergy sufferers appear to be able to reducereliance on other treatments (nutritional, biochemical, orprescription) during negative ion therapy.
A set of breathing exercises called Buteyko breathingtechniques has been reported to significantly reduce theneed for prescription drugs for people with asthma.8Although the people in this blinded randomized trial hadimproved quality of life while doing these exercises,objective measures of breathing capacity did not improvedespite the decreased need for drugs.
Nutritional supplements that may be helpful: Vitamin
B6 deficiency is common in asthmatics.9 This deficiency
may relate to the asthma itself or to certain asthma drugs
(such as theophylline and aminophylline) that depletevitamin B6.10 In a double blind study of asthmaticchildren, 200 mg per day of vitamin B6 for two monthsreduced the severity of their illness and reduced the amountof asthma medication needed.11 In another study,asthmatic adults experienced a dramatic decrease in thefrequency and severity of asthma attacks while taking 50mg of vitamin B6 twice a day.12 Nonetheless, the researchremains somewhat inconsistent, and at least one doubleblind study did not find high levels of B6 to help asthmaticswho require the use of steroid drugs.13 Magnesium levels are frequently low in asthmatics.14Magnesium supplements might help prevent asthma attacksbecause magnesium can prevent spasms of the bronchialpassages. Intravenous injection of magnesium has beenreported to stop acute asthma attacks within minutes indouble blind research.15 Although the effect of oralmagnesium has not been appropriately studied, manydoctors recommend magnesium supplements for theirasthma patients. The usual amount of magnesium taken byan adult is 200–400 mg per day (children takeproportionately less based on their body weight).
Supplementation with 1 gram of vitamin C per day reducesthe tendency of the bronchial passages to go into spasm,16an action that has been confirmed in double blindresearch.17 Some individuals with asthma have shownimprovement after taking 1–2 grams of vitamin C per day.
A buffered form of vitamin C (such as sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate) may work better for some asthmaticsthan regular vitamin C (ascorbic acid).18 Very high amounts of vitamin B12 supplements (1,500mcg per day) have been found to reduce the tendency forasthmatics to react to sulfites.19 The trace mineralmolybdenum also helps the body detoxify sulfite,20 thoughthe ability of supplemental molybdenum to help asthmapatients remains mostly unexplored. A nutritionallyoriented physician should be involved in any evaluationand treatment of sulfite sensitivity.
People with low levels of selenium have a high risk ofasthma.21 22 Asthma involves free radical damage23 thatselenium might protect against. A double blind trial gave45 mcg of selenium to twelve people with asthma.24 Halfshowed clear clinical improvement even though lungfunction tests did not change. Most doctors of naturalmedicine recommend 200 mcg per day for adults (andproportionately less for children)—a much higher, thoughstill safe level.
Double blind research shows that fish oil partially reducesreactions to allergens that can trigger attacks in someasthmatics.25 Although a few researchers report small butsignificant improvements when asthmatics supplement fishoil,26 27 a review of the research shows that most fish oilstudies with asthmatics come up empty handed.28Nonetheless, there is evidence that children who eat oilyfish may have a much lower risk of getting asthma.29Therefore, even though evidence supporting the use of fish oils remains weak, eating more fish may still be worthconsidering.
Stomach levels of hydrochloric acid were reported to below in asthmatic children many years ago. Supplementationwith betaine HCl in combination with avoidance of knownfood allergens led to clinical improvement.30 Quercetin, a flavonoid found in most plants, has aninhibiting action on lipoxygenase, an enzyme thatcontributes to problems with asthma.31 No human studieshave confirmed whether quercetin decreases asthmasymptoms. Some nutritionally oriented doctors arecurrently experimenting with 400–1,000 mg of quercetinthree times per day.
Bromelain reduces the thickness of mucus, which may bebeneficial for those with asthma,32 though clinical actionsin asthmatics remain unproven.
Are there any side effects or interactions? Refer to the
individual supplement for information about any side
effects or interactions.
Herbs that may be helpful: Ephedrine, an alkaloid
extracted from ephedra, is an approved over-the-counter
treatment for bronchial tightness associated with asthma.33
Over-the-counter drugs containing ephedrine can be safely
used by adults in the amount of 12.5–25 mg every four
hours. Adults should take a total dose of no more than 150
mg every twenty-four hours. They should refer to labels for
children’s dosages. Ephedrine has largely been replaced byother bronchodilating drugs, such as alupent and albuterol.
Ephedra sinica, also known as ma huang, continues to be acomponent of traditional herbal preparations for asthma,often in amounts of 1–2 grams of the herb per day.
Traditionally, herbs that have a soothing action onbronchioles are also used for asthma. These would includemarshmallow, mullein, and licorice.
Ginkgo extracts have been considered a potential therapyfor asthma for some time. This is because the extracts blockthe action of platelet-activating factor (PAF), a compoundthe body produces that in part causes asthma symptoms. Astudy using isolated ginkgolides from ginkgo (not thewhole extract) found they reduced asthma symptoms.34 Acontrolled study used a highly concentrated tincture ofginkgo leaf and found this helped decrease asthmasymptoms.35 For asthma, 120–240 mg of standardizedextract or 3–4 ml of regular tincture three times daily canbe used.
Eclectic physicians—doctors at the turn of the century inNorth America who used herbs as their mainmedicine—considered lobelia to be one of the mostimportant plant medicines.36 Traditionally, it was used byEclectics to treat coughs and spasms in the lungs from allsorts of causes.37 Are there any side effects or interactions? Refer to the
individual herb for information about any side effects or
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2. Chiaramonte LT, Altman D. Food sensitivity in asthma: perception and reality.
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3. Rowe AH, Young EJ. Bronchial asthma due to food allergy alone in ninety-fivepatients. JAMA 1959;169:1158.
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5. Genton C, Frie PC, Pecoud A. Value of oral provocation tests to aspirin andfood additives in the routine investigation of asthma and chronic urticaria. JAsthma 1985;76:40–45.
6. Townes SJ, Mellis CM. Role of acetyl salicylic acid and sodium metabisulfite inchronic childhood asthma. Pediatr 1984;73:631–37.
7. Soyka F, Edmonds A. The Ion Effect. New York:Bantam, 1977.
8. Bowler SD, Green A,Mitchell CA. Buteyko breathing techniques in asthma: ablinded randomised controlled trial. Med J Austral 1998;169:575–78.
9. Collipp PJ et al. Tryptophane metabolism in bronchial asthma. Ann Allergy1975;35:153–58.
10. Weir MR et al. Depression of vitamin B6 levels due to theophylline. AnnAllergy 1990;65:59–62.
11. Collipp PJ et al. Pyridoxine treatment of childhood bronchial asthma. AnnAllergy 1975;35:93–97.
12. Reynolds RD, Natta CL. Depressed plasma pyridoxal phosphateconcentrations in adult asthmatics. Am J Clin Nutr 1985;41:684–88.
13. Sur S, Camara M, Buchmeier A, et al. Double-blind trial of pyridoxine(vitamin B6) in the treatment of steroid-dependent asthma. Ann Allerg1993;70:141-52.
14. Haury VG. Blood serum magnesium in bronchial asthma and its treatment bythe administration of magnesium sulfate. J Lab Clin Med 1940;26:340–44.
15. Skobeloff EM et al. Intravenous magnesium sulfate for the treatment of acuteasthma in the emergency department. JAMA 1989;262:1210–13.
16. Zuskin E et al. Byssinosis and airway responses due to exposure to textile dust.
Lung 1976;154:17–24.
17. Bucca C, Rolla G, Oliva A, Farina J-C. Effect of vitamin C on histaminebronchial responsiveness of patients with allergic rhinitis. Ann Allerg1990;65:311–14.
18. Ruskin SL. Sodium ascorbate in the treatment of allergic disturbances. Therole of adrenal cortical hormone-sodium-vitamin C. Am J Dig Dis1947;14:302–306.
19. Anibarro B et al. Asthma with sulfite intolerance in children: A blocking studywith cyanocobalamin. J Allerg Clin Immunol 1992;90:103–109.
20. Johnson JL et al. Molybdenum cofactor deficiency in a patient previouslycharacterized as deficient in sulfite oxidase. Biochem Med Metabol Biol1988;40:86–93.
21. Stone J, Hinks LJ, Beasley R, et al. Reduced selenium status of patients withasthma. Clin Sci 1989;77:495–500.
22. Flatt A, Pearce N, Thomson CD, et al. Reduced selenium in asthmatic subjectsin New Zealand. Thorax 1990;45:95–99.
23. Owen S, Pearson D, Suarez-Mendez V, et al. Evidence of free-radical activityin asthma. N Engl J Med 1991;325:586–87 [letter].
24. Hasselmark L, Malmgren R, Zetterstrom O, Unge G. Seleniumsupplementation in intrinsic asthma. Allerg 1993;48:30–36.
25. Arm JP, Horton CE, Eiser NM, et al. The effects of dietary supplementationwith fish oil on asthmatic responses to antigen. Allerg Clin Immunol 1988;81:183[abstract #57].
26. Broughton KS, Johnson CS, Pace BK, et al. Reduced asthma symptoms withn-3 fatty acid ingestion are related to 5-series leukotriene production. Am J ClinNutr 1997;65:1011–17.
27. Dry J, Vincent D. Effect of a fish oil diet on asthma: results of a 1-year double-blind study. Int Arch Allerg Appl Immunol 1991;95:156–57.
28. Thien FCK, Woods RK, Waters EH. Oily fish and asthma— a fishy story?Med J Austral 1996;164:135–36 [editorial].
29. Hodge L, Salome CM, Peat JK, et al. Consumption of oily fish and childhoodasthma risk. Med J Austral 1996;164:137–40.
30. Bray GW. The hypochlorhydria of asthma in childhood. Quart J Med1931;24:181–97.
31. Welton AF, Tobias LD, Fiedler-Nagy C, et al. Effect of flavonoids onarachidonic acid metabolism. Prog Clin Biol Res 1986;213:231–42.
32. Schafer A, Adelman B. Plasma inhibition of platelet function and ofarachidonic acid metabolism. J Clin Invest 1985;75:456–61.
33. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used inFoods, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996,227–29.
34. Guinot P, Brambilla Dunchier J, et al. Effect of BN 52063, a specific PAF-ascether antagonist, on bronchial provocation test to allergens in asthmaticpatients—a preliminary study. Prostaglandins 1987;34(5):723–31.
35. Li M, Yang B, Yu H, Zhang H. Clinical observation of the therapeutic effectof ginkgo leaf concentrated oral liquor on bronchial asthma. Chinese J Integrative& Western Med 1997;3:264–67.
36. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory, 18th ed. Sandy, OR:Eclectic Medical Publications, 1898, 1983, 1199–1205.
37. Ellingwood F. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy,11th ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1919, 1998, 235–42.


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