Conceptually, the best approach is to consider that an asthma attack is triggered when a person’s total load exceeds their capacity to adapt. While there may be a specific trigger, such as a stress or cigarette smoke perhaps, these triggers can be seen as ‘the last straw that broke the camel’s back’, rather than the cause. Therefore the goal becomes increasing a person’s adaptive capacity and lessening the total load. Here’s how:
1. FIND OUT WHAT YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO
There are two kinds of allergies: IgE and IgG. IgE, which stands for ImmunoglobulinE reactions are conventional allergies. People with asthma are often found to have higher levels of IgE, making them hypersensitive to certain substances. You can test your IgE sensitivity and identify specifically what you are reacting to from an IgE blood test. If you have asthma you may already have had this done. If not, this can be done privately through York Test Laboratories. The test involves taking a pin prick of blood with an easy to use home kit and posting it to the laboratories for testing. To find out more click here. Most asthma suffers also have IgG sensitivities to foods. These type of intolerances are not so obvious and may not always precipitate an asthma attack. If they do, asthma symptoms may not occur until 24 hours later. Common foods that cause reactions are milk products, gluten cereals (wheat, rye, barley, oats) and yeast. Your doctor is unlikely to offer an IgG allergy test, so you can get yourself tested for up to 113 different foods with York Test laboratories in the same way as the IgE test.
2. AVOID YOUR PROVEN ALLERGENS OR FOOD SENSITIVITIES
Once you know what you are reacting to, you need to avoid your allergens. IgE sensitivities last for life, while you can grow out of IgG sensitivities if you avoid the allergens strictly for six months. However, not all allergens are easy to avoid. If, for example, you are allergic to pollen you won’t be able to manage to avoid it completely. So, if you are pollen sensitive, I highly recommend avoiding all grains (which are grasses) and dairy products (made from grass) during the pollen season as the body can ‘cross react’ to similar proteins. If you are allergic to housedust mite, which live in mattresses and carpets, you’ll need to go to war on these critters by changing your bedding. Housedust mite allergy has gone up big time since central heating, because these bugs love moisture and don’t like big temperature changes. Either get a new mattress or put yours out to sunbathe on a couple of extremely hot days. Then cover in a housedust mite proof cover, which you can buy from most major department stores. Also get some housedust mite proof pillow cases and covers. Wash your sheets and pillow cases frequently in hot water and dry really well. Invest in a bed base that lets the bed air really well. Don’t make your bed. Leave it to ‘air’ and, ideally, let the room air as well. Ideally, don’t have a carpet in the bedroom and don’t leave wet towels lying around the place. Do your drying in the bathroom. All these actions also reduce exposure to moulds (which can trigger off an allergic reaction).
3. IMPROVE YOUR AIR QUALITY
Most people with asthma are hypersensitive to changes in air quality and do much better in clean air. It’s well worth investing in a decent ioniser for the bedroom or your major living space. Ionisers take dust and other particulate matter out of the air, including smoke and pollen. Now a new type of ioniser is also able to replicate the natural ions found in nature that can be absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream. Research from Australia’s National University, The Pavlov Institute in Russia and St Bartholomew’s in London has shown that improved lung capacity and relief from asthma symptoms are achieved quite rapidly by exposure to these type ions. In addition to ionisers for your home you can now buy discreet personal ionisers that can you can wear and help protect you whether you are out in the fields or in a smog filled city street.
4. IMPROVE YOUR BREATHING
It isn’t just what you breathe, but how you breathe that makes the difference. Most of us breathe very shallowly and deeper, slower breathing can greatly help reduce asthma symptoms. Breathing techniques are an important part of yoga and tai chi. My favourite daily exercise routine, Psychocalisthenics both teaches an excellent breathing technique called Diakath breathing and incorporates this breathing into the exercise routine. Breathing in this way is also a great way to de-stress and calm down. There are also some other breathing exercises you may like to try, developed by Frank Goddard, who had suffered from asthma all his life and had been on broncho-dilators since they were invented! At the age of 82 he had had enough and, through a combination of optimum nutrition, identifying and eliminating his allergies and certain breathing exercises, he is now both asthma and drug free. Frank invented a highly effective lung exercise tube that trains you to breathe in a way that helps bring oxygen to the brain and reduce the symptoms of asthma.
5. IMPROVE YOUR DIGESTION
One of the major causes for food allergies, which you may or may not have, is poor digestion. A lack of stomach acid, for example, means you don’t digest your protein properly, hence have undigested food proteins in the gut. If your digestive tract becomes at all inflammed, for example by alcohol, these food proteins can cross into the blood and trigger allergies. Once you’ve identified and avoided your known food allergens I’d recommend a 30 day digestion tune-up, as explained in my book Improve Your Digestion. This means minimal gluten, which irritates the gut, lots of fruit and vegetables, digestive enzymes with each main meal, plus a heaped teaspoonful of glutamine powder ( 5 grams) and a quarter teaspoon of acidophilus and bifidus powder, dissolved in water last thing at night. Also take a supplement programme that includes 10mg of zinc since this important mineral is needed to make stomach acid.
6. INCREASE YOUR INTAKE OF ANTIOXIDANTS
There’s no doubt that increasing your intake of antioxidants reduces asthma severity. Numerous studies have shown that a high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables reduces asthma severity and the implication is strongly that it is the high antioxidant nutrient content of fruits and vegetables that does this. The antioxidant nutrients that come out top and vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and bioflavonoids, which are especially rich in berries. From a dietary point of view this means eating lots of broccoli, peppers, berries, citrus fruit, apples (all rich in vitamin C), carrots and tomatoes (rich in beta-carotene and lycopene) and seeds and fish (rich in vitamin E). One UK survey of 1,500 asthma sufferers found that people who ate at least two apples per week faced a 22%- to 32% lower asthma risk than those who ate fewer. Another study has found that, for every milligram of vitamin E in the diet, there is a drop in the level of IgE in the blood of asthma sufferers. I’d therefore recommend supplementing 200mg of vitamin E every day. As far as supplements to optimise antioxidant intake are concerned, I would recommend taking a high-strength multi-vitamin and mineral, plus 2 grams of vitamin C with berry extracts (which are high in bioflavonoids) and zinc, and a good antioxidant formula. The multivitamin also provides important B vitamins which help reduce allergic potential.
7. INCREASE YOUR INTAKE OF NATURAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES
The actual constriction of the airways, known as bronchiols, happens due to an inflammatory reaction. Allergic reactions can cause a release of histamine that triggers constriction. Most anti-asthma drugs are acting as anti-inflammatories, the most common being steroid inhalers. These mimick the action of the body’s own cortisol, an adrenal hormone that acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory. Nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatories, other than your body’s own cortisol, are omega 3 fats, boswellia, curcumin, ginger, quercitin and MSM, which is a form of sulphur. Astaxanthin may also help. A number of studies have found lower rates of asthma in fish eaters. Children with a higher omega 6 to omega 3 fat ratio in their diet also have worse asthma. Meat, dairy, margarine, sunflower oil are all high in omega 6, while flax seeds and fish are high in omega 3. I’d certainly recommend a diet low in meat and dairy and high in fish. Also either have a tablespoon of a ground seed mix with at least half as flax seeds, or a dessertspoon of flax seed oil a day. From a supplementary point of view I’d recommend supplementing omega 3 fats. I’d recommend 600mg of EPA, 400mg of DHA and 200mg of GLA each day as the ideal intake and balance. Also worth trying is 1 to 4 grams of MSM. One asthma sufferer tried 2 grams twice a day. Within a few weeks her breathing became much easier and she was soon able to stop her medication. In her words “I can’t believe what it has done for me.” You may also want to experiment with astaxanthin, quercitin or the herbs boswellia, curcumin or ginger. There are three other herbs that have proven beneficial as well – Indian lobelia (Tylophora indica), Forskolin and Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata). While all the supplement doses I’ve given here are for adults, if you have a child with asthma the best rule of thumb is to divide by body weight. So a 5 stone child needs roughly half the amount. Nutritional therapists can help you find the best natural answers to asthma, and to test for possible factors such as allergy.