One of the most common long-term diseases among children, asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that inflames and narrows airwaves. Whenever an asthma sufferer is exposed to a “trigger”—environmental irritants, allergens, heavy exertion or even anxiety, as asthma triggers vary from person to person—they experience an asthma attack. These attacks inflame the body’s airways, leading to wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and/or coughing. Asthma attacks can flare up at any time without warning, and, if severe enough, can lead to death.
Although adults suffer from asthma, the disease is most common in children under 10. In America, about 25 million people suffer from asthma, and the number continues to increase. Unfortunately we don’t yet know what exactly causes asthma, making it both mysterious and frustrating to treat. The general consensus is that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is part of the cause. A recent theory called the hygiene hypothesis believes that the Western overemphasis on cleanliness may have something to do with this epidemic.
Beyond identifying the cause, we also don’t know how to cure it. Prescribed medications help keep the condition under control, so it’s important to follow the treatment plan outlined by your doctor. That said, a number of natural remedies, including diet, nutritional supplement, bodywork and other therapies, can safely support your lung health. Check out these recommended natural remedies for asthma. Always consult your health-care practitioner about significant changes to your daily regimen.
Identify Your Triggers: The first step to managing asthma attacks is determining your “triggers”. Consult a doctor about skin allergy testing (an allergist) and blood allergy testing (most any physician). Once your triggers have been identified, outline a plan with your health-care physician to reduce exposure.
Maintain an Anti-Inflammatory Diet: It may be possible to reduce inflammation and the clogging of air passages by following an anti-inflammatory diet. Maintain a light diet based on foods that don’t promote mucus production such as raw vegetables and fruits; seeds; whole grains; lean poultry; and fresh wild-harvested fish. Garlic and onions have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and make a savory addition to most vegetable dishes.
Increase Intake of Essential Fatty Acids: Studies suggest that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may improve asthma. Take 4 to 8 grams fish oil daily for the benefits. Flax seed is also high in omega-3s. Take 1 to 2 tablespoons flax seed oil daily. Alternatively eating more high-fat fish, such as salmon, mackerel or cod, or adding ground flax seed to your morning smoothies may do the trick.
Stay Hydrated: Drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours to help keep your systems clean. Water is especially helpful at breaking up mucus after an asthma attack.
Take Indian Tobacco: For acute attacks, Dr. Weil recommends Lobelia inflate, more commonly known as Indian tobacco. Mix three parts lobelia tincture with one part capsicum tincture. Add 20 drops of the tincture to a glass of water and drink at the start of an asthmatic attack. Repeat every 30 minutes for a total of three or four doses.
Clean Your Bedding: Keep your living spaces—especially your bedroom—clean and dust-free to reduce allergen exposure. In her new book 500 Time-Tested Home Remedies, Linda White, M.D. recommends using pillows filled with polyester instead of feather or down, and covering them with dust mite-proof pillowcases. Be sure to wash your bedding weekly in hot water and vacuum or wipe down bedspreads once a week.
Drink Turmeric: In her book, White also offers a recipe for a soothing Turmeric Toddy to relieve inflammation caused by asthma. Turmeric is an Indian spice with potent anti-inflammatory properties. Preliminary research suggests that concentrated extracts of turmeric can improve some aspects of asthma. To make this toddy, heat 1 cup milk to your desired warmth (don’t boil), then stir in 1 teaspoon ground turmeric. Drink up to three times daily.
Supplement with Magnesium: Well known for its ability to relieve muscle spasms, magnesium can help reduce the spasticity of airways. Take 250 mg two to four times daily; reduce dosage if loose stools occur.
Get a Massage: Relax bronchial muscles and break up congestion with a soothing back massage. Infuse your massage oil with calming essential oils such as lavender, citrus, frankincense and peppermint to relieve stress during the massage.
Hydrotherapy: Sweat out toxins and mucus with a hot bath or sauna. You can open airways and loosen congestion by adding drops of tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender essential oil to your bath.
Gina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living, where she manages the health section of the magazine.