Health Supplements and Nutritional Remedies for Asthma
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in twelve Americans has asthma, a chronic lung disease that causes coughing, wheezing, breathlessness, and chest tightness. The latest surveys show that one out of ten (about 7 million) children and 8% (about 19 million) of adults have asthma. The numbers are still growing, and it is also reported that about half of those with asthma suffer from an asthma attack each year. However, although there is no cure for asthma, most asthma attacks can be prevented.
Asthma is a life-long disease characterized by airway obstruction, inflammation and irritability. People with asthma have tight airways that cause whistling sounds (wheezing) as air moves out of the lungs during breathing. The bronchial tubes or airways are inflamed, red, and swollen, with glands that produce thick mucus. They are easily irritated by various allergy-causing substances, respiratory viruses, and other environmental triggers that cause the airways to tighten.
People who have a family history of asthma and a personal history of allergies have an increased likelihood of developing asthma. Young boys are more likely to have it, but after puberty, more girls are affected. Obesity and gastroesophageal reflux are also associated with asthma. There are many factors that trigger asthmatic attacks. These include exposure to secondhand smoke, viruses and other environmental allergens, air pollutants, changes in weather, exercise, stress, and anxiety.
Natural Treatments for Asthma
The goals of treatment for asthma are to prevent asthmatic attacks, reduce inflammation, and prevent lung damage. Conventional treatments include the use of medications to control inflammation such as steroids (oral or inhaled), widen the airways, such as bronchodilators, and prevent attacks, such as cromolyn. However, these medications may have side effects. Since asthma is a life-long condition, it is best to prevent flares and control symptoms using natural remedies and lifestyle modification.
Lifestyle modification may include:
- Quit smoking.
- Lose excess weight.
- Track down what triggers your attacks so that you can avoid them.
- Stay active. Consult your doctor about an exercise program that you can do safely.
- Avoid cold weather conditions by staying indoors or wearing warm clothes and face mask to warm the air you breathe.
- Try to avoid irritants and allergens. Keep your house clean, but wear a mask whenever you clean.
- Manage stress. Try some relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety and stress.
- Try other complementary and alternative treatments such as acupuncture, hypnosis, and yoga.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables that contain various antioxidants.
- Take some health supplements to correct your nutritional deficiencies and boost your immune function.
Health Supplements for Asthma
Some studies suggest that health supplements may help improve asthma:
- Choline is a B vitamin that may help reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Although some evidence suggests that taking higher doses (3 g daily for adults) works better, it is advisable to ask your doctor about using choline.
- Magnesium may help treat asthma because studies show that many people who have asthma have low levels of this mineral. Some studies also show that intravenous magnesium may be used as emergency treatment for an asthmatic attack.
- Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may be used to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms in people with asthma. However, more evidence is needed to prove its effectiveness in treating asthma.
- Quercetin is an antioxidant that helps reduce histamine release, as well as other inflammatory chemicals in your body. Since histamine triggers allergy symptoms such as watery eyes, runny nose, and hives, it is thought that quercetin may be used as treatment for asthma. However, more evidence is needed to prove this theory.
- Preliminary studies suggest that a diet rich in vitamin C significantly reduces wheezing in children. Vitamin C has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help maintain good health and may help keep airways open.
- People who have asthma may have low levels of Coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant found in the blood. Researchers are not sure, however, whether CoQ10 supplements can help improve your symptoms.
- Beta-carotene and lycopene are antioxidants found in many red and yellow fruits and vegetables, which may help prevent exercise-induced asthma.
- People who are taking theophylline, a drug that widens the airways, may need to take vitamin B6 because it can lower your blood levels of vitamin B6.
- Potassium supplements may also be taken by people who use theophylline because the drug reduces potassium in the blood.
Some studies suggest that certain herbal supplements may help people who have asthma. These include:
- Boswellia serrata, an herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, which can reduce asthma attacks and improve lung function.
- Coleus forskohlii is another herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve asthma symptoms.
- Tylophora indica has been historically used to reduce asthma symptoms.
- Pinus pinaster, also called pycnogenol, may reduce asthma symptoms and improve lung function.
- Saiboku-to is a traditional Japanese herbal mixture that helps reduce asthma symptoms and helps reduce doses of medications like corticosteroids.
In general, there are very few studies that provide solid evidence on the effectiveness of health supplements and herbal products in preventing and treating asthma. Like other medications, side effects and drug interactions may also occur, especially when taken in combination with other medicines. Consult your doctor before taking health supplements for asthma.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
UMMC. Asthma. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/asthma
CDC. Asthma in the US. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/asthma.htm
WebMD. Asthma –Overview. http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/asthma-overview-facts