by guest blogger Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrative medicine pioneer
As an integrative physician, one of my top recommendations is to breathe deeply. In addition to oxygenating our cells, breathing calms us and reduces our stress. In some ways, taking a deep breath is the simplest possible prescription—but not for everyone. For those struggling with asthma, breathing deeply can be an ongoing challenge.
Asthma is caused by inflamed airways, which makes them sensitive to inhaled particles, generating more inflammation. During a flare-up, sufferers cough, wheeze, and generally have trouble filling their lungs. There are as many as 25 million asthma sufferers in the U.S. alone. Even more concerning, this number is on the rise.
While there is no conventional cure for asthma, there are a variety of treatments, most notably steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs. While these medications are often necessary, I like to explore more holistic approaches to controlling inflammation and decreasing the airways’ sensitivity to inhaled particles.
Quite often, lung inflammation is just one manifestation of a larger allergic response. This could be a reaction to something in the air, such as dust mites or household chemicals, or an allergy to a food. One study of inner-city youth found that 24 percent of the asthmatic kids had at least one food allergy or sensitivity. The prevalence of food allergies is increasing, so we can expect asthma to keep pace.
The first step in controlling asthma should be to identify any allergies. Reducing or eliminating exposure to allergenic foods, the most common being dairy, soy, gluten, and eggs, as well as other common allergens, can reduce symptoms. If allergens are airborne, an air-purification system can also help. Allergies and sensitivities can be detected through a variety of tests ordered by an allergist or by selectively eliminating specific foods and observing any improvements and changes.
One study found a link between chronic bacterial infections and asthma. Researchers in Australia examined patients with asthma or rhinosinusitis and found bacterial infections in 83 percent of study participants. Many of these patients had Staphylococcus aureus, a close relative of antibiotic-resistant MRSA as well as other bacteria that have shown drug resistance.
These findings underscore the importance of strong immunity when dealing with asthma. It’s the best way to address these chronic infections and the inflammatory conditions they may fuel.
Identify Helpful Supplements
There are many botanicals that can help us reduce airway inflammation and thus control asthma symptoms. Medicinal mushrooms are known to balance immunity, modulate inflammation, and provide numerous other beneficial effects. One variety, Cordyceps sinensis, has been shown to reduce airway inflammation and hypersensitivity in animals.
Another issue can be vitamin deficiency, particularly a lack of vitamin D. One study found that reduced vitamin D levels were closely linked to reduced lung function. Although this research was mainly focused on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it has implications for asthma, as well. In addition, I recommend vitamins A, C, and E, which also offer lung protection.
Ginger can be useful to treat asthma. One study found that ginger could open up airways by relaxing smooth muscle. I also recommend the herb lobelia, which supports breathing and the cough reflex. Lobelia synergizes well with ginger to support lung function.
Galectin-3 is an inflammatory protein associated with cancer, heart disease, and other conditions related to inflammation and fibrosis. As such, research shows galectin-3 to be a potential therapeutic target in asthma treatment. There is a unique natural compound to address galectin-3 elevation: modified citrus pectin (MCP). Derived from orange peels, MCP is a form of citrus pectin that has been modified for absorption into the circulatory system and increased bioactivity. MCP binds to excess galectin-3 to block its pro-cancer, pro-inflammatory effects. The citrus compound is also known for its ability to safely remove heavy metals and support immunity.
Stick to a Healthy Diet
Many people have touted the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, olive oil, lean protein, legumes and whole grains. This diet is well-known for its anti-inflammatory effects, and people who adopt it often lower their risks for heart disease and cancer.
This approach seems to work for asthma, as well. A study conducted in New Zealand found that asthma patients who switched to a Mediterranean diet did better than those who stayed with their existing food choices.
Doctors in this country often treat asthma in isolation: These are the symptoms; these are the drugs that will address those symptoms. But we can’t really treat the condition until we understand its underlying causes. Because asthma has such an impact on quality of life, reducing the frequency and intensity of flare-ups by making simple diet and lifestyle changes can be life changing. Underlying contributing factors may vary between patients, but if we look at chronic infections, allergens, and nutrition, we can find the right combination of food and supplements to mitigate symptoms. Asthma isn’t an easy condition to treat, but with a little extra effort, patients can breathe easier and improve other areas of their health, too.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrates Western medicine with his extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, ayurvedic, homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, Dr. Eliaz has a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org.