Natural Approaches to Asthma

For some, asthma can be life threatening. The same toxins that cause eczema in one person, or sinus congestion in another, can cause the breathing tubes to constrict in someone so genetically predisposed. Skin and sinus issues are uncomfortable, but a fight for breath can be terrifying.

If the asthma requires medication, perhaps you can keep it to a minimum by combining it with natural approaches.

There are five basic challenges to the person with asthma:

  • Environmental toxins
  • Food intolerance
  • Emotional stress
  • Physical exertion
  • Infection

Environmental Toxins can be Triggers

  • Recirculated air in malls, airplanes, office buildings
  • Unclean filters used in home or office air conditioners, air purifiers, and heating systems
  • Pollen and mold spores
  • High ozone counts; bad air days; smog; factory air pollution
  • Cleaning products (home, office, and laundry). Restaurants often allow staff to clean floors and tabletops while you are dining–watch out!
  • Chemicals in newly purchased, unlaundered clothing and linens
  • Dust in the home (check curtains, carpeting, stuffed animals–behind, above, and below everything)
  • Fragrances (perfumed samples in magazines, fragranced products)
  • Classroom threats (paint, chalk, newspaper ink, naptime bedding, marking pens)
  • Exhaust fumes from autos and machinery
  • Chlorine in swimming pools and cleaning products
  • Damp, musty bedding and clothing
  • Houseplant mold
  • Outdoor barbecue fumes; fireplaces
  • Beauty salon chemicals
  • Cigarette/cigar/pipe smoke
  • Animal dander and feathers; feather pillows, down comforters and jackets

If this makes you want to hide in a padded cell, then at least be sure the padding has been washed in natural detergent! In addition to aggressively keeping your home free of environmental toxins, an air purifier/ionizer can significantly help to cleanse the air of fungus, bacteria, and chemical odors.

In his book, How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office (Penguin), retired NASA research scientist, Dr. Bill Wolverton, discusses houseplants to purify your environment. Plants are not just visual treats but nature’s living air purifiers! For those with mold sensitivity, take note: plant-filled rooms contain 50-60% fewer airborne molds and bacteria than rooms without plants.

Food Intolerance

A sensitivity to certain foods may or may not be the primary cause of the asthma, but it can certainly exacerbate it. Dairy is the number one food to be avoided, since it is a mucus-producing and mucus-thickening food, and the asthmatic is already challenged by an excess of thickened mucus. Perhaps certain foods should be avoided during pollen season so there is better tolerance to the unavoidable exposure to airborne pollens. See the chapter on food testing in my book, Gentle Healing for Baby and Child (Simon & Schuster), as well as other natural recommendations.

Beware of food additives, especially sulfites and MSG. Monosodium glutamate can be hidden in food products under the label hydrolized protein and flavorings. Sulfites are often found in commercially prepared salads and dried fruits. Look for unsulfured dried fruits in the health food store.

Emotional Stress

  • Meditation techniques relax the body and mind. Visualizations can help imagine the airways opening. These are effective tools used by corporate executives, sports figures, and cancer patients. Many books have been written about these techniques, and conventional medical practitioners are adding them to prescribed health programs.
  • Focused breathwork is a technique that can strengthen the lungs and teach you how to breathe more effectively.
  • Bach Flower Essences can help you deal with ongoing emotional challenges. An individualized formula can be created for specific needs.
  • Valerian, passionflower, lemon balm and hops are the ingredients in herbal formulas that nourish and calm the nervous system.

Physical Exertion: Feed The Adrenal Glands

Many experience exercise-induced asthma with physically challenging activities. The stress-sensitive adrenal glands, when exhausted, can cause a drain on the bronchials, inducing wheezing.

  • Licorice root helps rid the bronchials of excess mucus by supplying a natural form of cortisone, an anti-inflammatory substance, which also feeds the adrenal glands. Give a dose of the liquid extract of licorice root just before physical activity.
  • Sugar depletes the adrenals. Keep it out of the diet as much as possible and especially before physical activity. Beware of sugar laden sports drinks!
  • Be sure the body is well hydrated (with water) before and during physical activity.
  • Chiropractic adjustments can have a beneficial effect on adrenal function, as well as strengthen the lung area.
  • Magnesium relaxes smooth muscles, and vitamin C helps stabilize the body’s own chemicals that may act as triggers; this is a winning combination before physical exertion.

Infection Prevention

When an asthmatic gets a cold, you can usually count on it moving into the chest. Check out the herbs echinacea and garlic for cold and flu prevention, because in preventing a cold, you’ve effectively prevented another asthma attack.

Natural Approaches to Asthmatic Attacks

  • Breathe Easy tea by Traditional Medicinals contains herbs that help stop wheezing. To prepare, steep the tea bag for 15-20 minutes, covered, in a cup of boiled water.
  • Dr. Christopher’s Resp-Free formula, available in capsules or liquid, helps clear the lung area of mucus, is anti-spasmodic, and anti-inflammatory. (Email me if you can’t locate it).
  • Hot lemonade helps thin mucus and relaxes spasms. Prepare this to taste with freshly squeezed lemons (not commercially prepared lemon juice!), hot water, and honey.
  • Homeopathic remedies specifically designed for your constitution can be helpful in alleviating asthma. Consult a homeopathic physician for best results.
  • Apple cider vinegar and honey helps restore pH (acid/alkaline balance), which can be helpful in stopping wheezing. Combine a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a teaspoon of honey; mix with ½ cup warm water. Sip this mixture when in distress.
  • *Valerian, blue cohosh, and lobelia are excellent anti-spasmodic herbs. Combine liquid extracts of these herbs during an attack. Based on an adult dose of about 40 drops of the combined herbs, dose according to weight: a 150 pound adult would get the full dose while a 50 pound child would get 1/3 the dose. Start with equal parts valerian and blue cohosh, then add just a few drops of lobelia, a powerful anti-spasmodic. (Important: be careful not to overdose lobelia, which could cause vomiting but acts as a catalyst to the other herbs.) A dose of this combination, diluted in a little water or juice, can be given every 15 minutes during an asthma attack.

The natural approach to asthma does not mean immediately withdrawing medication. Instead, introduce these natural therapies concurrent with asthma medicines. As these therapies strengthen the bronchial/lung area, less of the medication may be required and, with the guidance of your physician, can be slowly tapered off, replaced by the safe, natural supports. Eventually, by further strengthening the lungs and immune system, by eliminating poorly tolerated foods, and managing environmental issues, you will be able to withdraw even these natural supports. You may find the natural approach to asthma management a bit overwhelming at first. That’s understandable, since we are accustomed to the silver bullet approach: let a magic pill do all the work. Take it one step at a time, make changes gradually, and you will find encouragement in the positive results.

©Andrea Candee

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