The severity of these symptoms varies from person to person. Asthma can be controlled well in most people most of the time, although some people may have more persistent problems.
Occasionally, asthma symptoms can get gradually or suddenly worse. This is known as an “asthma attack”, although doctors sometimes use the term “exacerbation”.
Asthma is caused by inflammation of the small tubes, called bronchi, which carry air in and out of the lungs. If you have asthma, the bronchi will be inflamed and more sensitive than normal.
When you come into contact with something that irritates your lungs – known as a trigger – your airways become narrow, the muscles around them tighten, and there is an increase in the production of sticky mucus (phlegm).
Common asthma triggers include:
- house dust mites
- animal fur
- cigarette smoke
- viral infections
Asthma may also be triggered by substances (allergens or chemicals) inhaled while at work
The reason why some people develop asthma is not fully understood, although it is known that you are more likely to develop it if you have a family history of the condition.
Asthma can develop at any age, including in young children and elderly
The symptoms of asthma can range from mild to severe. Most people will only experience occasional symptoms, although a few people will have problems most of the time.
The main symptoms of asthma are:
- wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
- shortness of breath
- a tight chest – which may feel like a band is tightening around it
These symptoms are often worse at night and early in the morning, particularly if the condition is not well controlled. They may also develop or become worse in response to a certain trigger, such as exercise or exposure to an allergen.
How can we help?
As asthma is an inflammatory condition, an anti inflammatory diet can help reduce the overall inflammation in the body.
Studies suggest that a high salt intake may have an adverse effect on asthma, particularly in men. In a small, preliminary trial, doubling salt intake for one month led to a small increase in airway reactivity (indicating a worsening of asthma) in men with asthma, as well as in non-asthmatics.
Intake of fruit and vegetables should be increased, particularly those highest in vitamin C (e.g. red and green peppers, blackcurrants, leafy greens, broccoli and strawberries). Asthma patients have been shown to have significantly lower levels of vitamin C than normal, in blood serum and white blood cells. A large preliminary study has shown that young children with asthma experience significantly less wheezing if they eat a diet high in vitamin C-rich fruits. Some vegetables, particularly onions and garlic, contain flavonoids that inhibit the inflammatory response.
NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS IN THE TREATMENT OF ASTHMA
Magnesium levels are frequently low in asthmatics and increased dietary magnesium may be associated with better lung function and reduced bronchial spasms. In a preliminary trial, 18 adults with asthma took 300 mg of magnesium per day for 30 days and experienced decreased bronchial reactivity. Another double-blind trial found that 400 mg per day for three weeks led to a significant improvement in symptoms.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is common in people with asthma. This deficiency may relate to the asthma itself or to certain asthma drugs (such as theophylline and aminophylline) that deplete vitamin B6. In a double-blind trial, 200 mg per day of vitamin B6 for two months reduced the severity of asthma in children and reduced the amount of asthma medication they needed. In another trial, asthmatic adults experienced a dramatic decrease in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks while taking 50 mg of vitamin B6 twice a day.
Vitamin C, given as a 1,000 mg per day supplement, has been found to reduce the tendency of the bronchial passages to go into spasm. In one double-blind trial, 500 mg of vitamin C per day for two days prevented attacks of exercise- induced asthma. Long-term vitamin C supplementation (1 gram per day for 14 weeks) reduced the severity and frequency of attacks
Lycopene, an antioxidant related to beta- carotene and found in tomatoes, helps reduce the symptoms of asthma caused by exercising. In one double-blind trial, over half of people with exercise-induced asthma had significantly fewer asthma symptoms after taking capsules contain- ing 30 mg of lycopene per day for one week, compared to when they took a placebo.
Fish oils contain the essential fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which block the production of leukotrienes. Double-blind research shows that fish oil reduces reactions to allergens that can trigger attacks in some asthmatics. There is evidence that children who eat oily fish have a much lower risk of getting asthma and children who were given 300 mg per day of fish oil (providing 84 mg of EPA and 36 mg of DHA) in a double-blind trial experienced significant improvement of asthma symptoms.
A study conducted many years ago showed that 80 percent of children with asthma had hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid). Supplementation with hydrochloric acid (HCl) in combination with avoidance of known food allergens led to clinical improvement. These days, HCl is usually taken in the form of betaine hydrochloride. The amount needed depends on the severity of hypochlorhydria and on the size of a meal. Because it is highly acidic, betaine hydrochloride should be used only under professional supervision.
Quercetin is known to block the conversion of arachidonic acid to inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes, so it is perhaps surprising that it has not been the subject of clinical trials for asthma. In test-tube studies, quercetin effectively inhibited the release of histamine and IgE inflammatory mediators from mast cells in lung tissue.
HERBAL REMEDIES FOR ASTHMA
Indian lobelia, Forskolin and boswellia have all been found to be helpful in asthma at varying concentrations