Asthma is a constriction of the airways that can lead to serious problems from the lack of airflow, including wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. The airways of the lungs narrow, decreasing the ability of the chest to move air in and out. Poor airflow is stressful to the patient and, if the symptoms worsen, can become very dangerous. There are numerous medications and several nutritional components that can be helpful to reduce the severity of asthma symptoms and help sufferers breathe easier.
The Centers for Disease Control estimated 16.1 million adult cases of asthma and 6.7 million children with the diagnosis in 2006 [Source: CDC]. This leads to more than 10 million asthma-related doctor visits a year [Source: CDC]. Asthma was on the rise in the 80s and 90s. The disease rates have leveled out somewhat, but treatment needs continue to grow.
There are several nutritional suggestions available to combat asthma. The first nutrient to consider is magnesium, which has been found to be lacking in those with a history of asthma [Source: Durlach, Dominguez]. It has been suggested that low magnesium levels may make the airways more reactive and perhaps more sensitive to triggers [Source: Gontijo-Amaral]. Magnesium is considered a muscle relaxant, helping the muscles in the airways relax and allowing the airways to open. Intravenous magnesium has been used to help open airways of asthmatics in the emergency room. Oral magnesium has also been shown to be helpful by reducing airway activity and exacerbations [Source: Gontijo-Amaral]. Magnesium has also helped patients become less sensitive to allergens during skin testing [Source: Gontijo-Amaral].
Controlling inflammation can help prevent constriction of the airways, which is thought to play a role in asthma. By calming the inflammation in the airways of the lungs, the likelihood of the airways constricting can be reduced. Essential fatty acids like fish oils have been used to treat inflammation in asthma patients [Source: Schubert]. Another anti-inflammatory supplement, boswellia, also known as frankincense. Boswellia has shown benefit in both symptoms and lung function for the treatment of asthma in adults.
Asthma sufferers need to make attempts to control inflammation and strengthen the immune system by getting plenty of fruits and vegetables. At least five servings of fruits and veggies would go a long way in preventing infection. It would also mean the produce consumed would replace sweets and refined sugars, foods that can cause or aggravate inflammation in the lungs. A diet high in sugar will weaken the immune system and the body in general. Certain foods may cause asthma symptoms to flare. Both research and clinical experience point to various foods as potential triggers for asthma [Source: James, Karakaya]. Clinically, milk and sometimes gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, rye, spelt) can aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms. Many patients find relief by limiting or eliminating these foods. The way to determine whether these foods are actually a problem is to conduct an elimination diet or pull the perceived problem foods out of the diet for a given amount of time (usually at least 2-3 weeks) and then add them back in one at a time. If the symptoms get better when the food is eliminated, limiting or eliminating that food altogether would be a good idea.
The doses of these nutrients will vary among adults and children, as well as by the severity of the case. Do not be afraid to ask your doctor about nutritional options to help with asthma. Below are nutrients and suggested dosing that have shown some benefit in treating asthma [Source: Wright, Collipp, Gvozdjakova, Caruselli, Martinez-Losa].
- Magnesium: 100-300 mg daily for children, 200-500 mg daily for adults
- Fish oils: 300-800 mg of EPA plus DHA (find this information on the ingredient label) for children, 1,500- 2,000 mg of EPA plus DHA daily for adults
- Boswellia: 300 mg three times a day for adults, children’s research is ongoing
- CoQ10: 25-50mg for children; 100-200mg for adults both to be taken with food
- Vitamin E: 200 IU daily for children, 400 IU daily for adults, taken with food
- B-6: 25-50 mg daily for children, 100-200 mg daily for adults.
- B-12: Injection has historically been used for B-12, but taken orally, it can also be helpful. Dosing has been up to one injection daily for two weeks to improve symptoms (1,000 mcg).
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC): 400-600 mg twice a day for adults