First of all, I want to make it clear that this information is not to diagnose nor to prescribe and it should not take the place of the advice of your doctor. This is intended to complement conventional medicine, not to replace it. Consult with your doctor before starting any kind of nutritional or physical program.
Asthma is considered a spasm or inflammation of the bronchial tubes that lead to
the lungs. This can be due to irritation caused by allergies to food or airborne
pollution, or a sensitivity that is out of what we call the "norm." This sensitivity
could be to all the above or it can be emotional. Some researchers think it could be
an inherited or genetic weakness. I have not seen enough research for this to be
substantiated, so I leave that up to the experts. I do know, however, it can happen
at any age yet it is more common during childhood and some kids just outgrow it.
About 6 to 7% of the population has asthma, and it seems to be more common
There is a lot of controversy about asthma. The main problem is not taking a breath
in but in releasing the breath out. If we look at this from a psychological standpoint
it has to do with letting go of certain attitudes, or holding on to certain emotions.
We know that certain stress increases an asthmatic's condition or can even bring
about an attack. What this is telling many of us is that asthma can be very much tied
in with our minds and emotions. I know this from some of the latest research I have
read and from having an asthmatic son and stepson. I was able to put many medical
and natural remedies to work with my own family.
There is much to learn about asthma and whether or not nutritional approaches can
really help this condition. In my experience, asthma can be as different as the
patient that has it, and every case needs to be looked at separately. I feel very
strongly about this approach with all symptoms or diseases. We need to treat the
whole person and not lump everyone into the same category of asthmatics, for
We do know that many asthmatics seem to have airborne allergies and / or sensitivity
to foods. Often times the traditional allergy tests like skin or blood tests can
confirm certain serious allergies. However, it's some of the not so commonly
recognized food allergies that may be the problem. By just eliminating commonly
known allergens such as dairy products, wheat, peanuts, excessive sugar, and
According to other nutritional doctors, certain shellfish, shrimp and sulfates, which
seem to irritate the mucous lining, I know most will improve.
Eliminating dairy products would be beneficial if the person gets excessive mucus
when ingesting them. Wheat is a common allergen for most people because the
gluten is very hard to digest. There are very good alternative sources for calcium
such as many green leafy vegetables, cabbage, and cauliflower, as well as sunflower
seeds and almonds. You can purchase soy milk, almond milk or rice milk; these
Alternative products are less mucus forming. Once again, every individual is
different. Care must be used if certain foods are eliminated and then introduced
again because there may be a harsher reaction to them the second time around.
Here in Hawaii, we have another problem – molds, mildew and airborne allergens
such as pollen and certain dusts. Some asthmatics are allergic to ordinary house
dust. If your child has sensitivities to these pollutants there are air purifiers, ionizing
machines, etc. that can be of benefit in the home. When I had my son tested for
allergies there were even couch dust allergies that affected him. You may want to
get dehumidifiers for their bedroom. All of these things can help.
If we look at the work by Dr. Robert Young about having the body be more alkaline,
we can see that many of the problems occur with food choices. The body can do
quite well on a diet low in protein and high in greens, vegetables, and a little
carbohydrate. I find the key is to get some expert advice if you are not a nutritionist,
and none of this information is meant to replace seeing your doctor for asthma.
Hopefully, it will complement and educate you to alternative approaches. Care
should be taken in any change of diet and with the use of medicines or even herbs.
Many allergies to dairy products, bread or yeast, and even to eggs or corn are hard
to test for in the laboratory. Many times the reaction is very subtle and not so
obvious. Changing one's diet will take time before seeing any results. You will not
see dramatic results on a long term condition in a few short months. Once again,
you should think of consulting a nutritional doctor for the best way to approach this
Foods to Eliminate or Cut Down On
Look for specific asthma triggers that produce, for example, excess mucus. If after
eating a pizza, the kid gets a runny nose and starts to cough for the next two days,
this may tell you something. This is an obvious one but many times we don't pay
close attention and there are many more subtle triggers. Foods that create a lot of
gas can cause pressure on the diaphragm and sometimes trigger an asthma attack
as well, so watch for that.
Eliminate or greatly reduce potential allergens such as the dairy products and
replace with almond milk or soy products. Buy unyeasted breads, eliminate wheat,
barley and rye gluten products, and cut out peanuts. Reduce or eliminate sodas and
Sweets, even reduce fruit that is too concentrated with natural sugars such as dried
fruit. Juices should always be watered down for kids, anyway. Reduce salt intake and
cut out artificial sweeteners, and check your labels for additives and other unnatural
colors, etc. More natural foods are better for everyone, not just asthmatics. A low
salt diet may reduce bronchial sensitivity and improve asthma status as well.
Remember, work with the child on all levels because emotional distress is also an
important asthma trigger that is often overlooked.
The same recommendations apply as far as eliminating the foods above. Alcohol
varies in its effect on individual asthmatics; it can help some (I think it calms them)
or make it worse. Often it conflicts with digestion. Wine may make the condition
worse because of the many sulfates used in making it.
Caffeine can have a modest, acute anti-asthma relief, probably because of its
chemical similarity to the asthma medicine, Theophylline. However, I wouldn't
recommend using coffee. It should be reduced because of its high acidity. Teas
could be used. I'm not fanatical about anything, but coffee on an empty stomach
does not help the body, and if you are asthmatic you already have an overly
As I said earlier, eat lots of greens; they are great for the body. The key is to try and
eliminate acid foods like meats, bread, sweets, and dairy products. Broccoli is one of
the best vegetables because it is 65% protein. Eat more avocados; they are not
fattening and they have the good fats (see nutrition article). Now there are green
drinks on the market with many grasses that are very high in chlorophyll. Work with
a specialist to get your body back to an alkaline balance. It is the strongest
protection for the immune system. Eat more onions and garlic with your food.
Reduce meat protein and increase protein such as tofu or fish, tuna and salmon
being among the best because they are high in Omega 3 as well as fish oil, which
Has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect and a benefit found in treating rheumatoid
arthritis. It may be helpful for asthma as well. These stimulate and heal the immune
system. Use sea kelp for minerals and seasoning.
Bee pollen has proved to be helpful if eaten from local sources. If the allergies are
airborne, bee pollen can strengthen the immune system and the body will start to
resist the pollens it's allergic to. Be sure to start with a few granules at a time and
work up to two or three teaspoons daily. It's great in smoothies. Discontinue if
rashes or wheezing occur using those small amounts.
(Caution! All herbs are like medicine and should not be taken for long term use
Unless you are consulting with your doctor.)
The best herbs or natural foods are garlic and onions but gingko biloba known best
for its benefit on the mind or its "anti-senility" effects may help. During an attack, I
used a lobelia, goldenseal and bee propolis tincture that worked great for the kids,
not for long term use, though. Other herbs that are beneficial are mullein oil in tea
or juice, slippery elm tea or tablets, horsetail, juniper berries, licorice root and Pau
Ma huang, a Chinese herb (ephedra sinica), can be used as a tea twice daily but it's
not recommended for extended use. This plant is a source of the asthma medicine,
ephedrine, a close cousin of Theophylline, a widely used asthma medicine. Most
Doctors recommend the use of the prescription medicines Theophylline or
ephedrine since the potency of the tea is not consistent and can have serious side
Effects like nervousness and irregular heart beat.
Tylophora asthmatica in tea twice daily can be taken but it is not recommended for
long term use, either. This Indian herb has been used to treat asthma in the
Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years.
Quercitin, 500 mg 3 times daily, is an important bioflavonoid, and is biochemically
Similar to the anti-asthma drug Intalcromolyn. In some experiments quercitin has
been shown to prevent mast cells from releasing histamines, a chemical that
aggravates allergic reactions.
Vitamins (Recommended doses are for adults or large teenagers)
Very helpful, for most of us as well are most anti-oxidant vitamins. Vitamin A,
10,000 -20,000 IU daily; 10,000 -20,000 IU's daily of natural beta carotene.
Vitamin C, 1500-3000 mg daily. Always take Vitamin C with bioflavinoids, one of
the lungs most important anti-oxidant defenses. High doses can be given to
asthmatics before an acute exposure to irritants or allergens. Vitamin B complex,
500-1000 mg daily with extra Vitamin B-6, 50-200 mg daily; Niacin (vitamin B-3)
or niacinamide; Bromelain (Wobenzime from Maryln Nutriceudicals), 1000-3000 mg
daily. Bromelain is a pineapple enzyme. I'm a great believer in this nutrient for many
things. It is a natural anti-inflammatory nutrient, reducing inflammation not only in
the joints but it also works on the lungs. Also, pycnogenol or grape seed extract is
both anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant. Magnesium, 300-600 mg (magnesium
Helps an acute asthma attack when given intravenously.) Most nutrition oriented
Physicians believe oral magnesium can help chronic asthma as well. Vitamin D, 500
IU daily. N-Acetyl Cysteine, 500-1000 mg. This nutrient is converted in the body to
glutathione. It has definite mucous thinning and anti-oxidant effects.
Vitamin B-12, orally 1,000 mcg twice a day or for some acute conditions, an
injection of Vitamin B-12, 1000 mcg weekly may be helpful (see your physician)
Amino acids l-cysteine, 500 mg twice a day on an empty stomach taken with the B.
vitamins and Vitamin C. Along with that, also take l-methionine, 500 mg twice a
Consult an allergist and get a food test (cytotoxic) and a skin test (intracutaneous
titration). Some doctors even do the sublingual provocation and pulse tests to
determine your food allergies or other airborne allergies. Always keep in mind that
the interpretation of these tests is highly subjective often depending on the doctor
that you are working with. Find one that also works with nutrition.
Often times it's more accurate to eliminate suspected foods and to keep a food
diary to identify trigger foods. Watch your child's food or your own carefully.
Consider eliminating the other potentially common allergen foods but only in a
well-supervised approach, and be prepared to treat an acute asthma reaction when
reintroducing suspected foods.
A good example of an elimination diet could be eating many of the greens in salads,
brown rice, sweet potatoes, squash, or for us in Hawaii, poi, which is made from
taro, a great food and hypo-allergenic to most people. Then, of course, many
steamed vegetables can be eaten such as beets and their greens, asparagus, chard,
squash, carrots, artichokes, string beans and spinach. Very small amounts of
cooked fruits such as peaches, apricots, papaya, plums and prunes. No citrus fruits.
Cooking fruits alters the protein in them making them less likely to be allergens.
Then after a cleansing diet, re-introduce some of these foods, one at a time on an
empty stomach, to see the results.
Take an insurance formula multi-vitamin / mineral. The best ones are liquid and they
should be specific for age and weight. Listed above are doses meant for an adult or
a large teenager.
Consider also a six-week trial of 1000 mcg vitamin B-12 injections for the children.
There is a good source for many of these nutrients called "Urban Air Defense" from
Source Naturals, a great company.
I hope this information has been helpful to you but it is not meant to replace your
doctor. Always be sure to check with your physician before undergoing any severe
change in your diet or in your children's diet.
Richard Podell, MD, Andrew Weil, MD, John McDougall, MD, James F. Balch, MD,
and Phyllis Balch, CNC