(BlackDoctor.org) — Asthma is a lung disorder characterized by sudden fits of wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful:
What You Need To Know:
- Clean it up
To avoid triggering asthma attacks, control household and workplace irritants such as dust, mold, smoke, chemicals, and animal dander, and dietary triggers like certain food additives
- Keep a healthy body weight
Shed extra pounds to improve breathing and decrease the need for medications
- Check out certain antioxidants
30 mg a day of lycopene or 64 mg a day of natural beta-carotene can help prevent exercise-related asthma attacks
- Try proven herbal remedies
Supplements containing boswellia extract (900 mg a day), ivy leaf extract (50 drops a day), or tylophora leaf (200 to 400 mg a day) may improve breathing symptoms; children should be given one-half of these amounts or less, depending on body weight
- Watch the salt
Avoid aggravating symptoms by limiting use of table salt and salty fast foods, and by reading labels to find low sodium groceries
- See an allergist
Find a specialist to help you build tolerance to allergens
These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading the full asthma article for more in-depth, fully-referenced information on medicines, vitamins, herbs, and dietary and lifestyle changes that may be helpful.
Dietary Changes That May Be Helpful
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 one group of asthmatics. Although 16 out of 24 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 was purely a result of the dietary changes compared with the many other therapies employed.
Vitamin C, an antioxidant present in fruits and vegetables, is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This anti-inflammatory activity may influence the development of 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.
Studies suggest that high salt intake may have an adverse effect on asthma, particularly in men. In a small, preliminary trial, doubling salt intake for one month led to a small increase in airway reactivity (indicating a worsening of asthma) in men with asthma, as well as in non-asthmatics. Several double-blind trials have provided limited evidence of clinical improvement following a period of sodium restriction. It is difficult to compare the results of these studies because they used different amounts of sodium restriction. However, they consistently suggest that increased dietary sodium may aggravate asthma symptoms, especially in men.
Although most people with asthma do not suffer from food allergies, unrecognized food allergy can be an exacerbating factor. A medically supervised “allergy elimination diet,” followed by reintroduction of the eliminated foods, often helps identify problematic foods. A healthcare professional must supervise this allergy test because of the possibility of triggering a severe asthma attack during the reintroduction.
Some asthmatics react to food additives, such as sulfites, tartrazine (yellow dye #5), and sodium benzoate, as well as natural salicylates (aspirin-like substances found in many foods). A doctor or an allergist can help determine whether chemical sensitivities are present.
Lifestyle Changes That May Be Helpful
Being overweight increases the risk of asthma. Obese people with asthma may improve their lung-function symptoms and overall health status by engaging in a weight-loss program. A controlled study found that weight loss resulted in significant decreases in episodes of shortness of breath, increases in overall breathing capacity, and decreases in the need for medication to control symptoms.
Medical management of asthma includes controlling environmental factors that can trigger an attack (animal dander, dust mites, airborne molds and pollens, and certain foods).
Vitamins That May Be Helpful
Lycopene, an antioxidant related to beta-carotene and found in tomatoes, helps reduce the symptoms of asthma caused by exercising. In one double-blind trial, over half of people with exercise-induced asthma had significantly fewer asthma symptoms after taking capsules containing 30 mg of lycopene per day for one week compared to when they took a placebo.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is common in asthmatics. This deficiency may relate to the asthma itself or to certain asthma drugs (such as theophylline and aminophylline) that deplete vitamin B6. In a double-blind trial, 200 mg per day of vitamin B6 for two months reduced the severity of asthma in children and reduced the amount of asthma medication they needed. In another trial, asthmatic adults experienced a dramatic decrease in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks while taking 50 mg of vitamin B6 twice a day. Nonetheless, the research remains somewhat inconsistent, and one double-blind trial found that high amounts of B6 supplements did not help asthmatics who required the use of steroid drugs.
Magnesium levels are frequently low in asthmatics. Current evidence suggests that high dietary magnesium intake may be associated with better lung function and reduced bronchial reactivity. Intravenous injection of magnesium has been reported in most, but not all, double-blind trials to rapidly halt acute asthma attacks. Magnesium supplements might help prevent asthma attacks because magnesium can prevent spasms of the bronchial passages. In a preliminary trial, 18 adults with asthma took 300 mg of magnesium per day for 30 days and experienced decreased bronchial reactivity. However, a double-blind trial investigated the effects of 400 mg per day for three weeks and found a significant improvement in symptoms, but not in objective measures of airflow or airway reactivity. The amount of magnesium used in these trials was 300 to 400 mg per day. Children usually take proportionately less based on their body weight, but one study of asthmatic children between the ages of 17 and 19 used 300 mg of magnesium per day.
Pycnogenol is a proprietary mixture of flavonoids extracted from the bark of a French maritime pine tree. In a double-blind trial, supplementing with pycnogenol significantly improved lung function and asthma symptoms and significantly reduced the need for rescue medication in a group of children (ages 6 to 18 years) with asthma. In contrast, no significant changes were seen in the placebo group. The amount of pycnogenol used was 1 mg per pound of body weight per day, in two divided doses, for three months.
Supplementation with 1 gram of vitamin C per day reduces the tendency of the bronchial passages to go into spasm, an action that has been confirmed in double-blind research. Beneficial effects of short-term vitamin C supplementation (i.e., less than three days) have been observed. In double-blind trials, supplementation with 1,000 to 1,500 mg of vitamin C per day for 2 to 14 days prevented attacks of exercise-induced asthma. Two other preliminary trials found that vitamin C supplementation reduced bronchial reactivity to metacholine, a drug that causes bronchial constriction. However, other studies, including two double-blind trials, have failed to corroborate these findings. The only double-blind trial of a long duration found that vitamin C supplementation (1 gram per day for 14 weeks) reduced the severity and frequency of attacks among Nigerian adults with asthma. A buffered form of vitamin C (such as sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate) may work better for some asthmatics than regular vitamin C (ascorbic acid).
People with low levels of selenium have a high risk of asthma. Asthma involves free-radical damage that selenium might protect against. In a small double-blind trial, supplementation with 100 mcg of sodium selenite (a form of selenium) per day for 14 weeks resulted in clinical improvement in six of eleven patients, compared with only one of ten in the placebo group. Most doctors recommend 200 mcg per day for adults (and proportionately less for children)-a much higher, though still safe, level.
Double-blind research shows that fish oil partially reduces reactions to allergens that can trigger attacks in some asthmatics. Another double-blind study showed that fish oil supplements prevented exercise-induced asthma attacks in people with asthma. A few other researchers have reported small but significant improvements when asthmatics supplement with fish oil, but reviews of the research concluded that most fish oil studies showed little or no benefit. It is possibl
e that some of these trials failed to show an improvement because they did not last long enough to demonstrate an effect. There is evidence that children who eat oily fish may have a much lower risk of getting asthma. Moreover, in a double-blind trial, children who received 300 mg per day of fish oil (providing 84 mg of EPA and 36 mg of DHA) experienced significant improvement of asthma symptoms. It should be noted that these benefits were obtained under circumstances in which exposure to food allergens and environmental allergens was strictly controlled. Though the evidence supporting the use of fish oil remains somewhat conflicting, eating more fish and supplementing with fish oil may still be worth considering, especially among children with asthma.
In a double-blind study of people with asthma, supplementation with aproprietary extract of New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Lyprinol) twice a dayfor 8 weeks significantly decreased daytime wheezing and improved airflowthrough the bronchi. Each capsuleof Lyprinol contains 50 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.
A study conducted many years ago showed that 80% of children with asthma had hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid). Supplementation with hydrochloric acid (HCl) in combination with avoidance of known food allergens led to clinical improvement in this preliminary trial. In more recent times, HCl has usually been supplemented in the form of betaine HCl. The amount needed depends on the severity of hypochlorhydria and on the size of a meal. Because it is a fairly strong acid, betaine HCl should be used only with medical supervision.
In some people with asthma, symptoms can be triggered by ingestion of food additives known as sulfites. Pretreatment with a large amount of vitamin B12 (1,500 mcg orally) reduced the asthmatic reaction to sulfites in children with sulfite sensitivity in one preliminary trial. The trace mineral molybdenum also helps the body detoxify sulfites. While some doctors use molybdenum to treat selected patients with asthma, there is little published research on this treatment, and it is not known what an appropriate level of molybdenum supplementation would be. A typical American diet contains about 200 to 500 mcg per day, and preliminary short-term trials have used supplemental amounts of 500 mcg per day. People who suspect sulfite-sensitive asthma should consult with a physician before taking molybdenum.
Quercetin, a flavonoid found in most plants, has an inhibiting action on lipoxygenase, an enzyme that contributes to problems with asthma. No clinical trials in humans have confirmed whether quercetin decreases asthma symptoms. Some doctors are currently experimenting with 400 to 1,000 mg of quercetin three times per day.
Bromelain reduces the thickness of mucus, which may be beneficial for those with asthma, though clinical actions in asthmatics remain unproven.
Some researchers have suggested that asthma attacks triggered by exercise might be caused by free-radical damage caused by the exercise. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that protects against free-radical damage. Israeli researchers reported that 64 mg per day of natural beta-carotene for one week in a double blind trial protected over half of a group of asthmatics who experienced attacks as a result of exercise. More research is needed to confirm this promising finding.
The oral administration of a thymus extract known as thymomodulin has been shown in preliminary and double-blind clinical trials to improve the symptoms and course of asthma. Presumably this clinical improvement is the result of restoration of proper control over immune function.