Asthma natural treatment with
herbs, vitamins, and supplements, role of diet and food
by Ray Sahelian, M.D. Information
on alternative therapy
January 14 2015
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that affects 15 million people in the United States. An estimated 5 million children have this airway disease, which makes it the most common chronic disease of childhood. You will find more information about the causes and symptoms and commonly used medications later, but for now I want to discuss some natural remedies the medical profession has yet to address. Integrative treatment approaches with some evidence for benefit in asthma treatment include the following: nutrition modification, mind-body medicine, physical activity, and certain dietary supplement interventions.
Natural treatment for asthma research studies
There is little doubt that diet and lifestyle, along with herbal and nutritional methods can have an influence on asthma symptoms and severity. However, research is still too early to make any firm recommendations. In the meantime, I want to share with you some of the preliminary research I have come across. This information is not meant to replace your doctor's advice, however, you could inform your doctor about these natural asthma treatment options and he or she could learn more about them to see if they would be helpful to you.
Diet and food, what you eat influences how you breathe
Children who eat three or more burgers a week are at a higher risk of asthma and wheezing, but a healthy diet rich in fruit and fish seems to stave off the risk. A meat-heavy diet itself has no bearing on the prevalence of asthma. Yet, frequent burger eating could be a signal for other lifestyle factors which raise the risk. Could it be the white bread, fries, and sodas associated with eating burgers?
Eat more cold water fish with high content of
fish oils. Eating oily fish like salmon, halibut, sardines (packed in mustard or
tomato sauce, not oil), or tuna regularly may reduce the risk of asthma
symptoms. Children who eat lots of amounts of whole grain products and fish seem
to have a reduced risk of developing asthma. The rise in the prevalence of
asthma in western societies may be related to changed dietary habits. Studies of
children have shown that asthma is less likely with increasing intake of
fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, and fish. Teens who don't eat
enough fruit and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids are more likely to suffer
from bronchitis, wheezing and asthma.
Mothers who have a higher intake of fish and fish oils in pregnancy are likely to have children with a lower incidence of asthma symptoms. Infants who begin fish consumption after the age of 6 months may fare better.
Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Have a wide variety of produce, preferably organic. People who eat plenty of tomatoes, carrots, leafy greens and other vegetables appear less likely to have asthma. Though it's uncertain whether the foods are the reason, the findings suggest that some or many vegetables may protect against adulthood asthma. A number of studies have suggested that antioxidants or certain other nutrients in plant foods may help prevent or ameliorate asthma and other allergic conditions. Carrots, tomato juice, spinach and other vegetables contain nutrients called carotenoids and flavonoids.
A key ingredient in the aroma from citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons appears to protect rats from the symptoms of asthma. The citrus ingredient is called limonene, and it likely protects by "burning" inhaled ozone, which can increase inflammation in the lungs. Other scents - such as those emitted from pine trees, geraniums and roses - contain similar ingredients to limonene, which may help explain why asthma is much more common in urban areas that lack vegetation. Squeezing an orange peel releases liquid that contains a high concentration of limonene.
Reduce hydrogenated and trans fats which are often found in pastries, cookies, cakes, etc.
Reduce omega-6 oils such as corn, safflower, and sunflower. Substitute a little bit of flax or olive oil.
Have hot soup and tea -- warm liquids lessen severity
Obese adults with asthma are at risk for having more severe, persistent disease relative to their leaner counterparts, therefore weight loss could help.
While exercise can trigger symptoms in some people, there is also evidence that physically active asthmatics tend to have better overall control than their sedentary counterparts. European Respiratory Journal, online June 7, 2010.
Supplements that may be helpful: Click on each link for more information and to find high quality online store where you can purchase these products.
If you don't like fish, consider taking fish oil capsules. Fish oil supplements may, in some people, help reduce the severity of asthma, including exercise-induced asthma.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, make sure you have at least 100 mg to 500 mg a day.
Vitamin D is suggested at a dose of 400 to 2000 iu a day depending on your sun exposure.
Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2014. Clinical effects of vitamin D in children with asthma. It appears that children with very low levels have a higher rate of attacks.
Flavonoids may be helpful, including Genistein and Quercetin. These are available as supplements. Flavonoids are found in vegetables, fruits, and herbs. They have anti-inflammatory activity. See study on genistein below.
Boswellia is an Ayurvedic herb that has been found to be helpful for asthma. It can also be combined with curcumin and licorice.
Butterbur extract could be helpful in many people.
Curcumin and turmeric are of benefit.
Forskolin has been evaluated in some clinical trials.
Ginkgo biloba herb may help.
Sylimarin may protect against histamine-induced bronchoconstriction. Sylimarin is found in milk thistle.
Magnesium mineral may help some individuals.
Alpha Lipoic Acid has been found to be helpful in one mouse study.
Pycnogenol is a good option to try, it has natural anti-inflammatory properties.
Yoga is helpful
Again, the research in this area is still scant, and I will update this page as more information becomes available. If you plan to take supplements for asthma, discuss with your doctor, and learn as much about each one before you take them.
Antioxidants may help you breathe
Antioxidant supplements could ease asthma symptoms
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2003.
Indian scientists who conducted an extensive chemical analysis of blood samples say that beefing up levels of antioxidants may help thwart symptoms of the lung disease. Previous research has shown that a disturbance in the balance between the body's oxidant production--the formation of molecules such as free radicals that can damage tissue but are a normal byproduct of body processes--and natural antioxidant defenses is involved in asthmatics' inflammation response. Antioxidants are a class of chemicals that neutralize oxidants, and include vitamins C and E and certain substances found in fruits and vegetables. In the present study, researchers measured the levels of antioxidants and oxidants in the blood of 38 men and women with asthma and compared them to levels in blood samples from 23 healthy people. Dr. Ahmad Nadeem of the University of Delhi and colleagues write that asthmatic patients showed "alterations in a wide array of oxidants and antioxidants, with balance shifting toward increased oxidative stress in asthma." The findings suggest, the authors conclude, that boosting the antioxidant defenses of asthma patients could be "beneficial."
Boswellia, licorice, and turmeric
Natural anti-inflammatory products and leukotriene inhibitors as complementary therapy for bronchial asthma.
Clin Biochemistry. 2010.
To assess the efficacy of a combination of Boswellia serrata, licorice root and Tumeric root (Curcuma longa) as natural leukotriene inhibitor, antiinflammatory and antioxidant products respectively in controlling bronchial asthma. The study comprised 63 patients with bronchial asthma that are further subdivided into two groups .Group 1 receiving oral capsule (combined herb) in a soft-gelatin capsule 3 times daily for 4weeks and group 2 receiving placebo. Plasma leukotriene C(4), nitric oxide (NO) and malondialdehyde levels were measured and pulmonary function was also assessed in all patients enrolled in the study. There was a statistically significant decrease in the plasma levels of leukotriene C(4), malondialdehyde, and NO in target therapy group when compared with placebo group. The used extract contained Boswellia serrata, Curcuma longa and Glycyrrhiza has a pronounced effect in the management of bronchial asthma.
Fish oils, omega-3 fatty acids
Fish oil and inflammatory disease: is asthma the next target for n-3 fatty acid supplements?
Nutr Rev. 2004.
Eating fish or taking n-3 fatty acid supplements can decrease the risk and severity of cardiovascular disease. Recent research suggests that asthma, another highly prevalent, chronic inflammatory disease, may also respond to fish oil supplements.
Fish oils, vitamin C, zinc
Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and Zn supplementation in asthmatic children: a randomized self-controlled study.
Acta Paediatr. 2009. Department of Paediatric, Faculty of Medicine, Tanta University, Tanta, Egypt.
The aim of this study is to evaluate the role of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and Zn in children with moderately persistent asthma. Randomly assigned, placebo-self-controlled 60 children with moderate persistent asthma completed the study, were subjected to alternating phases of supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and Zinc either singly or in combination separated with washout phases. Diet supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, Zinc and vitamin C significantly improved asthma control test, pulmonary function tests and pulmonary inflammatory markers in children with moderately persistent bronchial asthma either singly or in combination.
Clinical efficacy of n-3 fatty acid
supplementation in patients with asthma.
J Am Diet Assoc. 2005.
The rising prevalence of asthma is an alarming health concern. The morbidity and mortality associated with asthma not only disrupts the quality of life, but it also escalates health care costs. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the respiratory tract. An exaggerated production of the arachidonic acid-derived eicosanoids, leukotrienes, has been implicated as the chemical trigger for asthma inflammation. n-3 fatty acid supplementation has been shown to suppress the synthesis of the n-6 series of leukotrienes by competing and inhibiting the metabolism of arachidonic acid. The results from epidemiological studies suggested that fish consumption was beneficially associated with lung function and prevalence of asthma. The data generated from clinical trials, however, indicated that n-3 fatty acid supplementation did not consistently improve severity of asthma symptoms, lung functions, airway responsiveness, and medication use in asthmatic patients. Leading organizations have not included nutrition as part of the management guidelines for asthma. Meanwhile, regular fish consumption at least three times per week should be highly encouraged as part of a well-balanced diet and to meet the adequate intake levels established for n-3 fatty acids in asthma patients.
Ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and childhood asthma.
Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia, Australia. Asthma. 2004.
We found evidence for a modulatory effect of the dietary n-6:n-3 fatty acid ratio on the presence of asthma in children. Our results provide evidence that promotion of a diet with increased n-3 fatty acids and reduced n-6 fatty acids to protect children against symptoms of asthma is warranted. cause of asthma.
In vitro effects of astaxanthin combined with ginkgolide B on T lymphocyte activation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from asthma subjects.
J Pharmacol Sci. 2004.
This study was undertaken to identify novel approaches to pharmacological treatment of asthma. Here we hypothesize that the platelet-activating factor receptor antagonist ginkgolide B (GB) in combination with the antioxidant carotenoid astaxanthin suppresses T cell activation comparably to two commonly-used antihistamines: cetirizine dihydrochloride and azelastine. Our results suggest that astaxanthin and GB may have application as novel anti asthma formulations.
Melatonin to improve sleep problems
Melatonin Improves Sleep in Asthma: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study.
Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2004
This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Twenty-two consecutive asthmatic women were randomized to receive melatonin 3 mg or placebo for four weeks. Sleep quality and daytime somnolence were assessed by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, respectively. Pulmonary function was assessed by spirometry. Use of relief medication, asthma symptoms and morning and evening peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) were recorded daily. Melatonin treatment significantly improved subjective sleep quality, as compared to placebo. No significant difference in asthma symptoms, use of relief medication and daily PEFR was found between groups. We conclude that melatonin can improve sleep in patients with asthma.
Dr. E. Rand Sutherland at National Jewish Health in Denver studied 54 nonsmoking asthmatics. Their mean serum vitamin D level was 28 ng/mL, and 24 were receiving inhaled corticosteroids. Higher vitamin D levels were associated with greater lung function. For each ng/mL increase in vitamin D, FEV1 rose by 21 mL on average. The relationship between FEV1 and vitamin D was stronger in patients who were not receiving inhaled corticosteroids. Patients with vitamin D concentrations below 30 ng/mL had significantly greater airway hyperresponsiveness to methacholine challenge than patients with adequate vitamin D concentrations. Normalizing vitamin D levels in patients with asthma may improve multiple parameters of asthma severity and treatment response, according to Dr. E. Rand Sutherland. Am J Respiratory Critical Care Med 2010.
Additional supplements that may play a role in asthma
Borage Oil is available as a supplement
Funtumia elastica herb is from Africa
Lyprinol is a mussel extract
Perilla seed oil
Pycnogenol is a polyphenol
TSUMURA SAIBOKU-TO -- Combination of 10 different herbs.
Asthma triggers include
Avoid or reduce exposure to allergens or asthma triggers listed below:
Additives to alcoholic beverages or foods ó metabisulfites, MSG, tartazine (yellow dye #5), yeast, sulfite additives in wine.
Allergens from animal dander, cockroaches, dust mites or mold spores, pollen (trees, grass, weeds), indoor and outdoor pollutants. People with asthma caused by allergies to a pet may have to choose between their furry friend or better health. Removing the pet from the home is more effective than even optimal drug therapy in reducing wheezing and airway constriction. A tailored approach, involving cockroach extermination and using air cleaners to reduce dust, smoke and levels of other indoor allergens may consequently reduce asthma symptoms in inner-city children. Vacuum cleaners with "high-efficiency particulate-air" filters or HEPA filters are no better than basic vacuum cleaners at reducing an individual's exposure to dust mites in the home. Dust mites, which infest even the cleanest homes and thrive in bedding and carpets, disrupt the protective function of the skin, leaving it vulnerable to other allergens and irritants in the environment. House dust mites and their droppings have long been linked to attacks of asthma and eczema. Mites and their feces contain an enzyme which destroys the protective function of the skin, leaving it vulnerable to other irritants.
For children at higher-than-average risk of asthma, having a dog around the house may increase the chances of developing the lung disease. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, March, 2010.
Foods such as eggs, milk, nuts, soy, wheat and peanut. Toddlers who consume large amounts of margarine and foods fried in vegetable oil may be twice as likely to develop asthma as their peers who eat less of these foods.
Fungi indoors and outdoors - Airborne fungi are increasingly being
seen as a risk factor. High
levels of such fungi are found in inner city homes with cats, cockroaches, and
dampness problems. The most common species found outdoors and indoors was Cladosporium, followed by Penicillium and Aspergillus. The strongest predictor
of high indoor fungi levels, compared with outdoor levels, was having a cat live
in the home within the last six months. Evidence of cockroaches in the child's
bedroom was linked with high levels of Aspergillus, whereas dampness in the
bedroom was tied to high levels of Cladosporium.
In a study of workers at one leaky, mold-contaminated office building, U.S. government researchers found that the rate of adult-onset asthma among employees was more than three times the norm for the general population. Two-thirds of these cases were diagnosed after the employees had started working in the building.
Changes in humidity or barometric pressure.
Diseases such as GERD, sinusitis, rhinitis, viral infections, hyperthyroidism.
Drugs-- aspirin, NSAIDs, beta blockers, sulfites, and estrogen. Estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy may increase the risk of developing asthma after the menopause. There is some thought that acetaminophen or Tylenol use may increase the rik.
Irritants and air pollution -- tobacco smoke, wood-burning, perfumes, cleaning agents, carbon dioxide, pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone. Children who live near a busy road may be at increased risk of wheezing, a symptom of asthma. Exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of death among people with severe asthma. Almost 100 million people in 21 U.S. states breathe unhealthy levels of tiny particles spewed by coal-burning power plants, cars and factories.
Even in rural areas, exposure to ozone appears to have a harmful impact in kids with asthma. Ozone is formed from byproducts of fossil fuel combustion in the presence of sunlight. In the outer atmosphere, ozone helps prevent harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching Earth's surface. But on the ground, ozone, a major constituent of smog, irritates the airways and makes the eyes burn.
Breathing in traffic-related pollutants is harmful for kids and adults. There is a link between asthma that develops in adulthood and increased exposure to traffic-related pollutants.
Chronic exposure to outdoor air pollutants reduces lung function as measured by forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1). Some of the pollutants in air, particulate matter <10 um in diameter, include nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone.
Air pollution, which tends to inflame the airways in people with asthma, reduces the effectiveness of the rescue inhalers people count on for quick relief of their respiratory symptoms.
As daily levels of ozone and pollutants from vehicle exhaust climb, so do children's emergency-room visits for asthma attacks.
Pesticides can trigger or worsen asthma in farmers. The
following pesticides are associated with the allergic variety of asthma:
Coumaphos, EPTC, lindane, parathion, heptachlor, and 2,4,5-TP are most strongly
linked to allergic asthma. For non-allergic asthma, DDT, malathion, and phorate
have the strongest effect.
Physical triggers -- exercise, hyperventilation, cold air.
Physiological factors - stress, psychological factors. Stress of finals may worsen the symptoms of asthma.
People who regularly feel stressed out by their jobs may have a higher risk of developing asthma than those with a more-relaxed work atmosphere. Allergy, online April 27, 2010.
Environmental control measures include removing carpets from the patientís bedroom and living areas, weekly washing of bedding and clothing in hot water, specially designed mattress and pillow covers, removing stuffed animals, keeping pets outdoors. Quilts made of synthetic fibers like polyester might trigger wheezing in some children with asthma. Inner-city families can help relieve children's asthma symptoms by making simple changes in their homes. Such steps include using pillow covers that are impermeable to dust mites, and air purifiers to get rid of tobacco smoke, mold and cat or dog allergens.
Indoor exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from gas-fueled stoves, even at levels well below the Environmental Protection Agency outdoor standard, may cause respiratory symptoms in asthmatic children living in multi-family housing units. Chronic exposure to indoor nitrogen dioxide is a public health concern, in part, because more than half the households in the US have a source of NO2, usually a gas-fueled cooking appliance.
Housework may raise the risk for asthma if exposed to high
amounts of common cleaning sprays and air fresheners. Perhaps natural cleaners
would not raise the risk as much. Reduce your exposure to air fresheners,
furniture cleaners and glass-cleaners. Exposure to fumes emitted by cleaning products in the home could cause asthma
Avoid indoor swimming pools due to the high chlorine vapors which can damage lung tissue and aggravate asthma. Swimming in outdoor chlorinated pools appears to increase the odds a child will develop asthma. Children who start swimming before the age of 2 may be at increased risk of a common infant lung infection, and possibly asthma and respiratory allergies later in life. Exposure to chlorinated pools may affect children's respiratory health -- particularly if they have a family history of asthma or respiratory allergies like hay fever. European Respiratory Journal, online January 14, 2010.
Avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol). The common painkiller acetaminophen -- better known as Tylenol in the U.S. -- may be causing a worldwide increase in asthma. According to one study, acetaminophen could be responsible for as many as four in 10 cases of wheezing and severe asthma in teens. While no one knows if the drug causes asthma by itself, another report -- published along with the first study -- shows for the first time that many toddlers took acetaminophen before they developed asthma symptoms such as wheezing. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2010.
Bleaching agents widely used in hair salons put hair stylists at risk of asthma and inflammation of the eyes, nose and throat.
Nurses are more likely to develop asthma, and so are cleaners. Exposure to certain cleaning chemicals, bioaerosols, mites, agricultural products, and latex in the workplace raise the risk of developing asthma.
Asthma medicines and medications
Asthma may be classified as mild, moderate, or persistent. Patients with persistent asthma require medications that provide long-term control of their disease and medications that provide quick relief of symptoms. Medications for long-term control of asthma include inhaled corticosteroids, cromolyn, nedocromil, leukotriene modifiers and long-acting bronchodilators. Inhaled corticosteroids remain the most effective anti-inflammatory medications in the treatment of asthma. Quick-relief medications include short-acting beta2 agonists, anticholinergics and systemic corticosteroids. Some 60 percent of people who use steroids long term for asthma and other diseases will develop a mood disorder, such as depression or manic depression.
A 2014 safety study done by the maker of the asthma drug
omalizumab (Xolair) suggests it poses increased risks for heart attacks and
mini-strokes known as TIAs (transient ischemic attacks), Medscape Medical News:
"FDA Warns of Small Cardio, Cerebrovasular Risk with Xolair."
Individuals with asthma appear to have an increased risk of developing panic disorder, and the presence of panic disorder predicts subsequent asthma activity.
There are several causes of asthma, the most common is allergic:
Due to allergy (extrinsic/ atopic) - This type of asthma usually starts in childhood and is often preceded by eczema. But most of the young adults developing asthma also fall in this category. Genetic factors play a significant role. In this type of asthma the allergen leads to production of excessive (IgE) immunoglobulins.
Due to an infection - This is not hereditary or allergic asthma, but may be caused by, or at least associated with upper respiratory tract or bronchial infection which is usually viral.
Due to damage to lungs from smoking or
Psychological factors (like anxiety, emotional stress etc) are often considered to be the sole cause of some asthma attacks, but it is still not certain whether it can be the sole cause or is only a precipitating factor.
Occupational asthma - This type can occur in certain industries in which there is exposure to metallic dusts (esp. platinum salts), biological detergents, toluene diisocyanate, polyurethane, flour and dust from grains etc.
Prescription and non prescription medications - Regular use of the painkiller acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, is associated with higher rates of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and reduced lung function. Animal experiments have suggested that acetaminophen might lower antioxidant activity in the lungs, and causes harm to the liver. Why is acetaminophen still available for sale without a prescription?
High blood eosinophil count is associated with more frequent asthma attacks in patients.
Sticking to a strict diet of mom's milk during the first 4 months of life may reduce a child's risk of developing asthma by their eighth birthday. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, April 15, 2010. Research shows that breastfeeding does reduce the later risk for asthma.