Natural Medicines for Asthma Attack Prevention

by in Asthma, Kitchen Sink, Reader Questions June 4, 2008

asthmabetacarotenesquash.jpgWhat can I do naturally to treat my asthma?

Personally as a physician, I do not EVER use naturopathic medicine to treat an asthma attack. I use it to prevent them. Naturopathic medicine works wonders for the reduction of asthmatic incidences.

Although there are plenty of natural medicines available that may stop an asthma attack, I just prefer to error on the side of safety, and always recommend that asthma is co-managed with an MD, as I take the treatment of asthma VERY seriously. An MD can provide you with all the rescue medications you need for acute attacks, and an ND can help prevent these attacks from occuring.

First and foremost, asthma is a potentially life threatening condition that requires supervision and treatment by a licensed physician. Always call 911 if having an asthma attack that is unresponsive to inhalers.

  • The following suggestions are only helpful in PREVENTING attacks, not TREATING them.
  • Treating an asthma attack is always going to fall back on the use of an albuterol “rescue inhaler” or nebulizer treatment.

Remember that prevention is KEY with most diseases, and that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. The goal with any preventative program is to reduce the overall amount of daily medications you have to take for your asthma. Diet and lifestyle factors are the key to reducing the amount of medications needed to control your symptoms.

Adopting a preventative program takes time, dedication, and discipline; if you want your asthma symptoms to improve, the only way that realistically will happen is through better diet and lifestyle. I would give any preventative plan at least six months to a year, as the cells in your body will need to turn over and become healthier and less inflammatory.

  • Do not combine any herbs with medications unless authorized by your naturopathic physician.
  • If you do not have access to a naturopathic physician, please print out this article and discuss it with your MD before trying any new treatments for your asthma.
  • Natural treatments such as diet, lifestyle, foods, vitamins and minerals typically can safely be combined with most asthma medications.

Keep in mind that asthma medicines, herbs, and nutritional products are not “curing” asthma, they are only opening airways, reducing inflammation, and reducing spasms of the bronchial smooth muscle. In order to facilitate the healing process for this disease we must improve the health of the patient, manage stress, reduce the total inflammatory load in the body, reduce the exposure to pollutants and pollens, and address the root cause of disease from a “whole person” perspective.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system that is characterized by wheezing, sudden difficulty in breathing, and chest tightness.

What Causes Asthma?

Most asthma is caused by allergic triggers or other irritants to the respiratory system such as pollution, aspirin, sulfites, additives in foods, food allergies, and inflammation. Some individuals are just pre-disposed to developing asthma, however as pollution levels rise, and as we add more and more “Kitchen Table Villains” and McInflammation to our diets we are seeing a consistent rise in rates of asthma.

Diet for Asthma

  • Anti-Inflammatory Diet. General treatment principles for the prevention of asthma attacks involve the reduction of inflammation. Often asthma sufferers are put on prednisone or other corticosteroids for severe or sub-optimally managed asthma. By adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and reducing the consumption of arachidonic acid found in animal products, you are altering your own physiology so that your body will naturally be primed to produce less inflammatory products such as prostaglandins that commonly trigger asthma attacks. Go vegan, or simply reduce the amount of fatty animal products you consume.
  • Eliminate Dairy. Dairy produces phlegm. Most people with asthma have food allergies or intolerances. Try a food elimination diet. Dairy and wheat are the most common food irritants for those with asthma. Try alternatives to dairy for two weeks and see if your symptoms improve with elimination, or worsen with re-introduction.
  • Decrease consumption of caffeine, salt, sugar, and tap water; as elimination of all were shown in the research to provide significant reduction in asthmatic symptoms.
  • Antioxidants in general are helpful for the reduction of inflammatory free radical species, thus a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is very protective, and a great source of antioxidants! Antioxidants will help counteract inflammation created from breathing pollution.
  • The best foods for asthma are: Alaskan salmon (for omega 3’s), green leafy veggies (for beta carotene and magnesium), cooked orange veggies such as yams, sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots (for beta carotene), brazil nuts (for selenium).
  • Avoid sulfites and other food additives that are thought to trigger asthma. Eat a whole foods diet.
  • Drink electrolytes! Frequent albuterol use lowers potassium levels. Bananas and green veggies are also great sources of potassium. Or you can drink two packets of Emergen-C daily to replete potassium and increase the antioxidant vitamin C which is shown to improve symptoms for those with exercise induced asthma.

Lifestyle Considerations for Asthma

  • Lose weight. Weight loss has been shown to significantly improve the management of asthma symptoms.
  • Avoid aspirin. Aspirin is a known trigger of asthma attacks in some patients.
  • Avoid the use of air fresheners, artificial scents, perfumes, candles, etc. These irritants will surely trigger an asthma attack.
  • Humidifiers are great sources of mold. If your humidifier is helpful be sure it is cleaned daily and filtered fresh water is always used.
  • Reduce inhaled chlorine. Try a water filter for your shower head so that you are not inhaling chlorine and other pollutants in to your lungs while showering which is destructive to healthy lung tissue.
  • Drink filtered water. Eliminating tap water was shown to reduce asthmatic symptoms.
  • Make your home “green” by Detoxifying Your Home, Decreasing Home Pollutants, Eliminating Common Household Pollutants, and Utilizing Plants that Promote Clean Air.
  • Add plenty of spider plants to your home to clean the air.
  • Live in a home that is between 5-15 years old. Brand new homes off gas chemicals from the carpets, cabinets, walls, etc that will add an extra burden to the lungs and trigger pollutant asthma attacks. Older homes will be full of toxic molds that will be sure to trigger allergic asthma attacks.
  • Consider moving to a less polluted, lower pollen count area.
  • Exercise at 60% of your max heart rate to lose weight without triggering an attack. Read my article on “How to use a heart rate monitor”. *ALWAYS* keep your rescue inhaler with you when exercising.
  • Chinese Medicine associates the lungs with grief. Interestingly enough many of the patients I have worked with have developed asthma around the time of an acutely stressful life situation. Don’t hold back your tears, cry them out. When we hold back tears it makes our chest tight, very similar to the chest tightness that asthma sufferers experience.
  • Learn to manage your stress. Work with a counselor to learn how to reframe stressful situations and think more positively.
  • Breathe! Breathing exercises not only manage stress but they tonify the lungs and diaphragm. Try my “Square Breathing” exercises of “Five Minutes to Zen”.

How to Reduce Allergens for Asthma

  • Wash bedding once weekly in allergen reducing laundry soap such as ALL “Free and Clear”.
  • Dry Pillows once weekly in your dryer for 45 minutes to kill dust mites, and reduce allergens in the bedroom.
  • Use a HEPA air filter.
  • Eliminate Mold, simply read my article on how to do that.
  • Wash hands and face and change your clothes for the day to remove pollen.
  • Remove shoes when returning home and store them in the front closet, not the closet you keep your clothes in to reduce the amount of pollen and pollutants you are exposed to.
  • Have pets groomed outside of the home on a regular basis.
  • Treat seasonal allergies aggressively! Most asthma symptoms worsen due to seasonal allergies. Read my article on controlling seasonal allergies with alternative medicines. Mark the months that your asthma is worse (typically spring and early fall for most) and plan to aggressively treat your asthma with these preventative measures during that time.
  • Hire a house cleaner. If at all possible do not do your own cleaning or lawn mowing. At least try to have someone else do the dusting and vacuuming. Leave the house while your home is being cleaned and your lawn is being mowed. Use natural non-toxic cleaners in your home. Offer to trade services such as cooking meals with a friend or neighbor if you have severe allergies and cannot afford these services. Tell your family members that “Dr. Nicole says I don’t have to clean or do yard work anymore”!

Vitamins for Asthma

  • Beta carotene-Antioxidant shown to reduce the symptoms of exercise induced asthma at 64mg daily. Foods containing beta carotene are most orange and green veggies. Cook them to increase their beta carotene content. Carrots, squash, yams, sweet potatoes, and broccoli are my favorites.
  • Vitamin C- Antioxidant shown to reduce asthma symptoms at 1000mg daily. Fruits and veggies are an excellent source, but for therapeutic purposes I would take this additionally as a supplement. A packet of Emergen-C in water twice daily is a delicious source of vitamin C and electrolytes.
  • Lycopene- Antioxidant shown to reduce asthma symptoms at 30 mg daily. Cooked tomatoes and ketchup are the best sources of lycopene.
  • Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) was shown to be helpful to some at 100-200 mg daily. Exceeding 200 mg daily may result in peripheral neuropathy, a numbness and tingling of the hands and feet.

Minerals for Asthma

  • Magnesium-Shown to reduce asthmatic symptoms by oral and IV administration. Magnesium is a “spasmolytic” and needed for muscles to relax. Magnesium reduces spasms in bronchial smooth muscles. Most people are deficient in magnesium, dietary source is found in green vegetables and whole grains. Recommended dose is between 400mg to 8oomg daily. Diarrhea may result from higher doses.
  • Selenium-A powerful antioxidant to combat pollution and inflammation related asthma attacks. Typical dose is 200 mcg daily or you can eat 2-3 brazil nuts daily.
  • Potassium– is depleted by the overuse of albuterol inhalers. Fruits and veggies are a great source, as is Emergen-C.

Herbs for asthma:

  • Do NOT ever mix herbs with prescription medicines without first checking with a licensed naturopathic physician!
  • Butterbur-Shown to reduce asthmatic symptoms at a standardized dose of 50mg twice daily.
  • Ginkgo– Also shown to reduce asthmatic symptoms.
  • Other Researched Herbs I use for asthma: Tylophora, Boswellia, Grindelia robusta, Hyssopus officinalis, and Prunus serotina.

Other Natural Medicines for Asthma

  • Fish oil– very anti-inflammatory, should see benefits after six months once all the cell membranes have all turned over. Not to be used by those with bleeding disorders, on anti-coagulant medications, or pregnant (vitamin A causes birth defects in excess of 10,000 IU daily).
  • Quercetin -as a mast cell stabilizer to prevent the release of histamine in to the system for those with allergic asthma.

Sample Alternative Medicine Self Help Treatment Plan for Asthma

  • ***Check with your physician before implementing***
  • Whole foods, Anti-inflammatory diet
  • Two week trial elimination of dairy with resultant challenge as described in the Food Allergy Elimination Diet.
  • Fish oil 1-2 tablespoon daily (taken with food) for adults will also be helpful; children over three- usually 1/2 to 1 teaspoon daily, pregnant women should not use cod liver oil due to vitamin A content causing birth defects.
  • Multivitamin containing 1000mg of vitamin C, 400mg of magnesium, lycopene 30mg, and beta carotene 64mg.
  • Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) 50mg standardized extract twice daily, OR a high quality herbal formula from a reputable health food store containing the above listed herbal ingredients.
  • Quercetin– for mast cell stabilization (inhibits the release of histamine) 1000 mg twice daily.
  • Eat 1 cup of frozen blueberries daily. Blueberries are very anti-inflammatory and great enjoyed as dessert or in my smoothie recipe!
  • Use a filter on your shower head, and drink filtered and bottled water free of chlorine and other chemical contaminants when at all possible.
  • Deep Breathing Exercises to tonify the lungs and manage stress (always keep your rescue inhaler nearby when practicing these).
  • Gentle exercise for weight loss (again always keep rescue inhaler on hand when exercising).
  • Work on creating a green home.
  • Monitor your Peak flows. Call your doctor if <70%. If <50% call 911 if you are by yourself, or go to the ER if not in acute distress and you have someone to drive you. Never drive yourself when in an acute asthma attack for the safety of you and others on the road.

References: The Merck Manual,

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PMID: 11117277; Reduction of exercise-induced asthma oxidative stress by lycopene, a natural antioxidant. Allergy. 2000 Dec;55(12):1184-9.
PMID: 9111435; Blocking effect of vitamin C in exercise-induced asthma. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997 Apr;151(4):367-70.
PMID: 7114587; The attenuation of exercise-induced bronchospasm by ascorbic acid.
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PMID: 7914305; Dietary magnesium, lung function, wheezing, and airway hyperreactivity in a random adult population sample. Lancet. 1994 Aug 6;344(8919):357-62.
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Recommended Reading for Asthma: Why to use a shower filter, Vitamin info and sources, Detoxify your home

Resources at premium shower filters, water filters

This article was sponsored by Crystal Cabinets Green Core. To create a GREEN, environmentally friendly kitchen, simply visit their website for more information!

~ Dr. Nicole Sundene

Naturopathic Physician

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