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Condition - Asthma

By Nutri People

Asthma is a lung disorder in which the passages that enable air to pass into and out of your lungs – called bronchi and bronchioles – become swollen, due to inflammation. This makes them very sensitive and they react to irritants and things you may be allergic to. Such a reaction triggers narrowing of your airways and your lungs get less air, causing shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, build up of sticky mucus (phlegm)*and chest tightness, especially early in the morning or at night. Standard treatment usually involves controlling triggering factors and drug therapy, most commonly inhaled β2-agonists and steroids.

The number of cases of asthma has been increasing continuously since the 1970s and it is now estimated that one in five households in the UK has a person with asthma. 

Asthma may be divided into two types: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic asthma is triggered by inhaled airborne allergens, including mould, tree and grass pollen, cat or dog dander, house dust mites, cockroach allergens and, in some instances, food allergy. Intrinsic asthma is triggered by stress, anxiety, respiratory infections, exercise, inhalation of irritants (tobacco smoke, air pollution and fumes), cold air and aspirin. Many people actually have a combination of the two types.

Contributing factors 

  • The following factors may play an important role in the increased prevalence of asthma:
  • Exposure to allergens, especially in early life
  • Exposure to specific chemicals, including pesticides and/or chemical pollutants in general
  • Exposure to chronic stress, which may also be associated with low adrenal function
  • Prolonged exposure to respiratory irritants and sensitising agents
  • Dietary patterns
  • Low levels of beneficial bacteria present in the digestive tract
  • Genetic factors
  • Obesity
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or acid reflux disease)

Nutritional considerations

  • EPAand DHA, long chain omega 3 fatty acids present in fish oil, may help in the natural production of anti-inflammatory mediators in the body.
  • The fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) present in certain oils, including starflower (borage) oil, may also help in the body’s natural production of anti-inflammatory mediators.
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a type of omega 6 fatty acid found in red meats and dairy products. Studies suggest that this fatty acid may help support anti-inflammatory processes, by reducing levels of certain inflammatory substances and keeping levels of the inflammation-creating enzymes, 5-lipoxygenase and COX-2, within a healthy range.
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) may help support normal mucus production and anti-inflammatory processes.
  • Quercetin & Bromelain. Quercetin is a type of plant-based chemical, also known as a flavonoid, which provides the body with antioxidant protection. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme (helps break down protein) obtained from the stem of pineapple. Both quercetin and bromelain may help support anti-inflammatory processes, by reducing levels of certain inflammatory substances.
  • Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and immune-supporting vitamin, normally present at high levels in the lining of the lungs. There is some evidence to suggest that blood concentrations of vitamin C are lower in patients with severe asthma, compared to subjects with mild asthma or those without asthma.
  • Antioxidants. These may provide an important defence mechanism for the lungs, by mopping up free radicals produced by the inflammatory process.
  • Co-enzyme Q10 (also known as CoQ10 or ubiquinone) is an oil-soluble nutrient and antioxidant found naturally in the energy-producing structures inside our cells, known as the mitochondria. It is involved in the production of energy which is used to drive a number of biological processes, including immune system function (our immune system actually uses a lot of energy). Researchers have actually observed a link between low CoQ10 blood levels and the use of anti-inflammatory corticosteroid preparations.
  • Vitamin B6. Research suggests that asthmatics treated with a type of asthma medication, called theophylline, may have lower blood levels of this vitamin.
  • Vitamin D3. According to a new scientific study, low levels of vitamin D are associated with suboptimal lung health and greater use of medication, in children with asthma.
  • Magnesium may help to relax the muscles, which may lower the incidence of spasm of the airways. Furthermore, use of asthma reliever inhalers may increase the urinary loss of magnesium.
  • Selenium. Some studies suggest that people with chronic asthma tend to have lower levels of selenium.
  • MSM (methyl sulfonyl methane). This is an organic compound that may help support anti-inflammatory processes in the body.
  • Probiotics. Some clinical trials suggest a link between gut microbes and healthy immune system function. Probiotics may help to modify the immune response by helping to establish a good bowel flora.
  • Salt inhalation. The salty atmospheres of salt mines have been used for centuries to ease the symptoms of respiratory system disorders. Salt calms the cells of the respiratory system and induces their natural self-cleansing mechanism, which may help to cleanse the respiratory system and aid breathing. It may also help to thin the mucus and ease expectoration of phlegm from the airways.
  • Finally, asthma may be related to adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit over the kidneys and are responsible for secreting many hormones. Stress places a strong demand on the adrenal glands, which respond by producing the stress hormone cortisol, to enable us to handle the stress. However, intense or prolonged stress weakens the adrenals and may, eventually, lead to adrenal fatigue, a suboptimal functioning of the adrenal glands and a decreased production of cortisol. Many nutritionists believe that adrenal fatigue can result in asthma because cortisol is also both an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy hormone. While there are no perfect tests for this condition, an adrenal hormone salivary test may contribute to an assessment.

Dietary recommendations

  • Try to incorporate turmeric into some of your meals. Turmeric is a spice derived from the rhizome (root) of Curcuma longa. Itisrich in polyphenolic compounds, known as curcuminoids, which give turmeric its bright yellow colour. Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid found in turmeric and may help support anti-inflammatory processes.
  • Add fresh ginger to your food and drinks. 
  • Include onions in the diet. Onions are a rich source of chemicals, including thiosulfinates and cepaenes, and research suggests that these may help support anti-inflammatory processes.
  • The increased use of vegetable oils and soft margarine, coupled with declining fish consumption, has substantially increased our intake of omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, relative to our intake of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. A high omega 6:omega 3 ratio may increase levels of certain inflammatory substances. Replace vegetable oils and margarines with extra virgin olive oil and fish oil (via consumption of oily fish (sardines, mackerel and salmon) and fish oil supplements).
  • Avoid foods that contain trans-fatty acids, including hydrogenated fats and oils (read the food labels).
  • Nuts and seeds have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Walnuts, in particular, are likely to provide many health benefits. They are a good source of omega 3 fats and, in traditional Chinese medicine, are thought to support the lungs and adrenal glands.
  • Quercetin is found in red grapes, onions, apples, berries (such as blueberries, blackberries, bilberries and blackcurrants) and greentea. Quercetin appears to be well-absorbed from dietary sources.
  • Eat plenty of green, leafy vegetables. Magnesium is part of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants, and so green, leafy vegetables are a rich source of magnesium. Nuts, seeds and whole, unrefined grains are also good sources of magnesium.
  • Reduce your intake of mucus-producing foods, including dairy products, citrus, refined carbohydrates and refined sugar.
  • Investigate the possibility of any food intolerances or food allergies. The foods most frequently implicated as causes of respiratory symptoms are eggs, milk, wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, fish and shellfish. Experiment with food elimination. For example, begin by eliminating wheat, corn, and soy for six weeks to see if the condition improves.
  • Reduce your intake of animal fats. If you eat meat, favour free-range and lean cuts (free-range meat is actually a good source of omega 3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid).
  • Drink sufficient amounts of water, to thin you respiratory tract secretions.
  • Eliminate fried foods, alcohol and processed foods.
  • Avoid an excessive intake of caffeine, which can over-stimulate the adrenal glands. Drink herbal teas as a healthy alternative.
  • In some asthmatics, certain food additives may trigger asthma attacks, including the food dye tartrazine (FD & C Yellow no 5) and sulphites (used as preservatives in processed food and dried fruits).

The following tea may help to support normal mucus production in the airways: Add one teaspoon of grated, fresh ginger root and one teaspoon of finely chopped orange peel to a cup of boiling water. Sweeten with honey if desired. Consume up to three times a day, when there is excessive amounts of phlegm present, and one to two times a day with moderate levels.

Lifestyle changes that may be helpful

Minimise your exposure to allergens and respiratory irritants as much as possible,including moulds, smoke, volatile chemicals and dust mites. Use special mattresses and hypoallergenic bed linen, that keep allergens out, and clean the house frequently. Home air purifiers may help to improve air quality.

Lose weight, if you are overweight and have asthma. Excess weight can contribute to breathlessness and may possibly trigger narrowing of the airways.  Those with exercise-induced asthma can still reap the benefits of exercise, including strengthening of the lungs and helping to maintain proper weight. For exercise-induced asthma,it is important to stretch,warm up very slowly and avoid vigorous exercise. And take precautions in cold weather, for example wear a mask to warm the air that you breath. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.

Relaxation exercises (e.g. yoga) and regular breathing exercises may also help to reduce attacks (anxiety and stress contribute to asthma attacks). Breathe from your belly, not from your lungs. Practice ‘alternate nostril breathing’.

In adults, GERD (acid reflux disease) can also be a contributing factor in the development of asthma and its successful treatment may help to reduce attacks.

*(Note: Yellow-coloured phlegm may be a sign of respiratory infection that warrants medical attention.) 

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