Approximately 2.5 million Australians and 700,000 New Zealanders have asthma, statistics from Asthma Australia and Asthma Foundation New Zealand reveal. Suggested contributing factors include diet, climate, immunisation rates, economic conditions, community health care standards, antibiotic use in early childhood and the timing and number of respiratory infections in early life.
What exactly is asthma?
Asthma is the narrowing of the airways which prevents air from fully leaving the lungs, thus restricting the capacity for complete inhalation. Inflammation of the lungs’ bronchial tubes is generally recognised as the cause of this narrowing, resulting in the familiar symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath.
- There is a long list of things that trigger the inflammation associated with asthma. Often it’s a combination of factors that trigger an asthma attack. Acute disease such as viral respiratory infections and heartburn can trigger attacks in susceptible people, a can tobacco smoke.
- There are also triggers in the home environment. Living in a poorly ventilated house with dust mites or mould can worsen asthma symptoms.
- Non-specific stimuli such as cold air exposure and exercise are also known to cause asthma attacks. Even dramatically fluctuating emotional states can be a trigger.
- Other elements that can bring on an attack include preservatives and food additives such as sulphites, benzoates, tartrazine, azo dyes and flavour-enhancing glutamates. This means a wide list of processed foods can be culprits, including packet soups, noodles, sauces, dried fruits, wine, beer, cordials and canned fruit. Naturally occurring chemicals such as salicylates and amines are also identified as triggers in some asthma-prone individuals, which means some whole foods can be culprits, too. Dairy and nuts have also been known to cause asthma for some sufferers.
Standard pharmaceutical treatment of asthma comprises of a number of medicines, either alone or in combination. Integrative treatment involves using the most appropriate approaches to create an individualised health plan. A definitive diagnosis of asthma is required through respiratory testing. Prescribing a pharmaceutical regimen and using an asthma action plan, which is reviewed annually, is important, as is working with a naturopath or other allied health worker to provide nutritional or herbal support.
- Bronchodilators: Bronchodilators are some of the most widely known medications for asthma. They relieve the symptoms of asthma by relaxing the muscles that can tighten around the airways, which helps to open up the airways.
- Herbs: The herbal pharmacopoeia offers many herbs that provide similar therapeutic effects to the standard pharmaceuticals or support healthy lung function in other ways. As with pharmaceutical agents, herbs should be professionally prescribed to ensure greatest safety and efficacy. Herbal treatements for asthma that are backed by research include the Ayurvedic herbs adhatoda and albizzia, and one of the oldest living tree species, gingko biloba. Adhatoda leaves contain various alkaloids, including vasicine and vasicinone, which act on the bronchi and inhibit allergy-induction. Herbs scuh as elecamoane, thyme, angelica root, oregano and garlic are the traditional Western herbs used to treat chronic life-threatening asthma.
- Selenium: Nutritional deficiencies and nutrient therapy also play a significant role in the integrative treatment of asthma. There are three main therapies that may provide asthma sufferers some relief. The trace mineral selenium is found to be lower in asthma sufferers, suggesting a deficiency of this mineral may be linked with the causation and/or occurrence of asthma. Selenium is an important immune nutrient.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a major antioxidant found in the extracellular fluid lining the lung, which suggests a direct influence on lung functioning. Dietary intake of vitamin C-rich foods has been associated with improved lung function in asthmatics.
- Diet: The average Western diet, high in saturated fats and low in omega-3 essential fatty acids, delivers an unbalanced ration of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids which play a role in all inflammatory diseases. The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids, with a reduction in omega-6 fatty acids, will benefit asthma sufferers after a few months.
Asthma can be terrifying – both to experience and witness – but by understanding the triggers and being aware of options for management, it is possible to take control of your asthma and lvie an active, healthy and full life.