Q: I was diagnosed with asthma in my early twenties. Is there a remedy, oil or herb that I can take that will cure my asthma? If not, can something natural be used with my asthma pump to help reduce attacks? Thank you for your help. Desirée
DR SANDI NYE REPLIES:
Thank you for your letter and interest in trying to manage your distressing health condition with natural treatment options. As you may concur, there is no single known cause for asthma – although common causative agents include sensitivity or allergy to moulds/fungi, pollens, dust mites, smoke, animal hair/dander, chemicals, foods, stress, obesity, weather and exercise. Airway hyper-reactivity, as well as atopy (eczema, hay fever), are also well-recognised risk factors for developing asthma. In addition there are about 100 genes linked to asthma – so heredity plays a part too.
Treating asthma can therefore be a challenge, as there are very few medications, or treatment methods, that can claim a 100%, singular cure for this widespread condition. There are, however, a number of possibilities that can substantially help you to improve, manage, or in some cases reverse the condition.
Most health modalities within the complementary medicine sphere have their own specific protocols and remedies that deal with different conditions, asthma included, for example: acupuncture, bio-feedback, chiropractic, herbalism (phytotherapy), massage, yoga and various breathing techniques such as Buteyko, and Pranic. However, providing a comprehensive report of each natural treatment option is not practical within the space constraints of a reader-response letter. My reply is therefore limited to a few basic naturopathic and aromatic medicine alternatives for your consideration, which I hope are of help. If any of these resonate with you it would be advisable to consult with a registered health practitioner offering the type of treatment you would like to further explore.
AN INDIVIDUAL APPROACH
In a perfect world a doctor would be able to definitively identify the cause of a health problem, and then provide absolute solutions to it – but this is not always (or even often) possible. Within the philosophy of natural medicine, each person is considered a unique entity, requiring individualised treatment; in other words patients are not just ‘asthmatics’ that all respond to the same generic prescription. People are more than their symptoms, and as such natural medicine strives to provide more than remedies that merely suppress, or temporarily alleviate, symptoms.
Asthma is a complicated, multifactorial and often frightening condition, which requires a multi-pronged approach within a natural treatment programme. Hence, a holistic, naturopathic approach to asthma treatment would focus on a few key principles to try to identify that which either underlies, or contributes to, the symptoms that manifest as the disorder. For example, assuming the causative factor is an allergen, and the symptoms manifest as a hypersensitive reaction that causes bronchospasm, swelling of and increased secretion from the bronchial mucous membranes – a doctor of naturopathic medicine would focus not only on reducing respiratory distress but also on the root cause, i.e. identifying allergens and/or allergic exposure, and removing or reducing such causative agents from the environment and/or diet.
In tandem, since asthma is considered an inflammatory airways disease, symptomatic treatment would include balancing the body’s allergic/inflammatory pathways with agents and/or procedures that reduce inflammation. Concomitant treatment to reduce sensitivity and spasticity of the airways, i.e. agents or procedures that increase ventilation/bronchodilation, as well as aiding expectoration to remove mucus, would be instituted when needed.
In general, naturopathic treatment protocols are underpinned by strengthening the body’s innate vital forces and correcting nutritional deficiencies, as well as focusing on the specific clinical needs of each patient. When treating someone with asthma, for example, a treatment focus would include reducing anxiety (emotional elements), plus strengthening the respiratory, immune and digestive systems. With reference to the latter, many people with asthma produce insufficient stomach acid, which not only decreases nutrient absorption but can also exacerbate the risk of developing food allergies. A simple digestive enzyme/hydrochloric acid supplement often helps in such instances.
In addition to any specifically identified triggers, the following commonly cause problems: The yellow artificial colourant, tartrazine, found in so many foods, promotes the production of leukotrienes (potent inflammatory mediators involved in asthma) – the same applies to many preservatives and certain drugs, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin. Sulphites, preservatives commonly found in fast-food, and nitrates/nitrites are other hidden culprits.
Avoiding or minimising anything that increases mucus production, such as dairy/milk products, plus animal protein (especially pork), fried foods, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated oils (interfere with fatty acid metabolism), polyunsaturated oils, sugar, soy, corn and gluten has helped many people reduce their asthma attacks.
- Anti-inflammatories: turmeric (spice); frankincense (essential oil and herb) (Boswellia); ginger (root); Omega-3 (oil); reishi mushrooms (a strong immune agent as well); butterbur (Petasites vulgaris); bromelain (enzyme) – taken between meals for optimal anti-inflammatory effect.
- Antioxidants: vitamins A, C and E; N-acytyl cysteine (NAC); plus the bioflavonoids; hesperidin and rutin; and the ‘anti-allergy’ flavonoid, quercitin. These agents, whether taken through supplements or the diet, decrease the free radical activity that can stimulate inflammation. And don’t forget to up your intake of delicious green tea and rooibos tea too.
- Antispasmodics: magnesium (mineral); cayenne pepper and turmeric (spices); and the herbs butterbur, Ginkgo biloba, mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and parsley leaf.
- Bronchodilators: magnesium; Coleus forshkholii; Ephedra sinica and Lobelia inflata (herbs) – preferably used with professional guidance. Dr Andrew Weil recommends a blend of three parts lobelia tincture to one part capsicum (cayenne pepper) tincture – 20 drops in water at the start of an asthma attack, repeated every 30 minutes, for a total of three to four doses.
- Essential oils/aromatherapy: there are certain oils that are particularly beneficial for asthma treatment, whether they are applied internally via inhalation – wet or dry, ingestion, or rectal/suppositories (only with professional guidance), or topically. For example: tansy; tarragon; aniseed; Creeping Hyssop; khella; basil; and petitgrain used synergistically can be particularly helpful as bronchodilator agents. Inula is a potent mucolytic and expectorant and some other essential oils that act specifically on the respiratory system are those extracted from trees, for example: cajeput; various Eucalypti; Ravintsara; Frankincense – the list can go on and on.
- Expectorants: parsley; horehound and peppermint.
- Nutrients: vitamin C (in particular), as well as vitamins B6 and B12, plus selenium and molybdenum.
- Other: There are also numerous homeopathic simplex and complex remedies indicated for asthma treatment.
I hope that you can find something here to set you off on the right track. Good luck.
Editor's Note: August 2022
Scientists have just come up with the beginnings of a potential long-term treatment for asthma, blocking the movement of a type of stem cell, pericyte, most often found in the lining of blood vessels. Pericytes are known to thicken the airways of people with asthma when an allergic and inflammatory reaction happens, making breathing more difficult.
A biologist and pharmacologist from Aston University in the UK, Jill Johnson, says: ‘By targeting the changes in the airway directly, we hope this approach could eventually offer a more permanent and effective treatment than those already available, particularly for severe asthmatics who don't respond to steroids.’
Stopping pericytes from traveling to the airway walls – where they turn into muscle cells and other cells that make the airway thicker and more rigid – would impact one of the underlying causes of shortness of breath.