ASTHMA: Find the cause and treat the symptoms

Dr. Brenda Gill
By Dr. Brenda Gill
April 1st, 2012

Asthma is an increased response of the airways to certain stimuli that are irritants/allergies or sensitivities to that person. This causes broncho-constriction, which means narrowing of the breathing passageways, which can lead to shortness of breath, wheezing or a chronic cough and in some cases can be life-threatening. At this time of year, I see many people that are starting to experience reactions to the mould from the melting snow and the dust in the streets and at home, especially if there is a wood stove.

Therefore, the goal is to strengthen the immune system, so it doesn’t over-react and minimize inflammatory irritants in the environment and diet that cause a reaction. This can develop at any age, from infancy to adulthood, depending on the state of the immune system at the time. Some children will “grow out” of their asthma because the immune system strengthens as they age, whereas, in others, the immune system weakens or gets overloaded and foods or environmental triggers will set off an asthmatic reaction or “attack”.

The two main causes of asthma are environmental and foods. There are drugs that promote the inflammatory pathway and should not be used for those with asthma. Some of these are aspirin and other NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), as well as Prozac or others in that class (SSRI’s). 

The first step is to maximize anti-inflammatory foods, which are called anti-oxidants or foods that are high in bioflavinoids. Therefore, I encourage eating foods with lots of colour, such as raspberries/blueberries/squash/carrots/red peppers- all those brightly coloured fruit and veggies. Molybdenum has also been shown to decrease inflammation. The foods that are high in molybdenum are: barley, lentils, green beans, squash, carrots and lamb. Eating fish, nuts and seeds (as you all know by now reading these articles) have those essential fatty acids, which decrease inflammation. Some choose to use flax/sesame/hemp seed oil on salads as well. Other natural anti-inflammatory ingredients are garlic, ginger, onions, turmeric, cumin and coriander. 

    The second step is to minimize any inflammatory agents. Therefore, I encourage minimizing dairy & cow products, since it creates mucous and is inflammatory. It should be used as a condiment and not as a food source. Therefore, sprinkling a small amount of goat or sheep cheese on pasta or salad is fine, or a small amount of yogurt with fruit occasionally, but not dairy everyday as cheese, for instance, on a sandwich. Try NOT to use cheese as a food, but, as a condiment.  Cream/sour cream/ice cream/buttermilk/milk are the worst for creating mucous and should be avoided if there is hayfever or reaction to snow mould and dust at this time of year. For those worried about getting enough calcium in the diet, there is plenty of calcium in whole grains/nuts & seeds/green veggies/beans and legumes/seafood/fish. Also, red meat should be limited to 1-2 times/wk for the same reason. It is better to use buffalo/wild meat or lamb for those spring/summer BBQ’s! 

Limit Pop, since it has a lot of phosphorus that inhibits magnesium, which is a broncho-dilator, in other words, allows the air passages to relax. Soft drinks also contains at least 10-12 tsp of sugar, which stops the immune system from getting on top of those irritants and getting them out of the body. 

I also try to substitute cold herbal teas for drinks in the summer, instead of Pop or Kool-Aid/Freshie/juice. Many people react to dyes, which can overload the immune system, so, it has a harder time dealing with the environmental irritants.

    The third step is to minimize the surrounding irritants in the house, so, again the immune system has less to have to breakdown and remove form the system. The most common are dust, mould, pollens and grasses. Therefore, minimizing dust in the bedroom is essential. So, as I talked about before, if folks have a furnace in the basement and have vents that enter the bedroom, there should be dust, electronic or charcoal filters on the furnace. Also, one can use up old hose by wrapping them around the bottom of the vent cover to prevent dust from coming up. Surfaces such as dressers and windowsills should be clear and damp wiped 1/wk. There shouldn’t be any stuffed animals, since they are dust collectors and should be washed regularly to minimize dust. Dust covers can also be used on the pillows and mattresses.  Another option is buying an air filter/ozone generator that not only filters out the dust, but, kills dust mites as well. Carpets are the worst for asthma, so should be removed from bedrooms and replaced with hardwood floors. 

    Moulds can also be controlled by making sure to have a de-humidifier, if there is a damp basement and removing any mould from around window casings.  “Citricidal”, a grapefruit seed extract, is great as a spray you can use to remove moulds. It’s extremely important these types of agents are used to remove the irritant, since any chemicals, such as commercial cleaning agents tend to have aromas and other chemicals added to them that may also prove to be as irritating to the person as what you are trying to remove. There are many environmentally friendly cleaning solutions one can use. Call your local environmental or recycling office for a list.

    The fourth step is to practice breathing exercises to expand and contract the lungs properly. When the body is used to proper breathing, if there is an irritant that brings on an asthmatic attack, the body is much more able to get back into proper breathing. Any other physical exercise will also help, because it will encourage the exercise the lung tissue and to better utilize oxygen supply. 

Brenda Gill is a naturopath practising in Rossland, BC.

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