Asthma | October 14, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
One in nine Australians have asthma – that's over 2.5 million people. Asthma is a recurrent, reversible narrowing of the airways due to chronic inflammation – translation: the airways become temporarily restricted or “tight”, allowing only a small amount of air to flow to the lungs. In severe asthma attacks, the airways may become completely blocked.
There are actually over ten categories of asthma including exercise-induced, night-time, and work-related asthma. But these can generally be assigned to one of two groups: allergic asthma, and non-allergic asthma.
Also known as “extrinsic” asthma, allergic asthma commonly develops during childhood and is seen alongside other allergic conditions such as eczema or hay fever.
Depending on the allergic trigger, this type of asthma can present seasonally or year-round – for example, asthmatics who are triggered by pollen may only suffer from symptoms during spring, while asthmatics who are triggered by dust mites or cockroaches will experience symptoms whenever exposed to these allergens regardless of the time of year. Most people “grow out of” allergic asthma in adulthood but it can remain or develop into non-allergic asthma.
Intrinsic asthma, or non-allergic asthma, is far less common than allergic asthma. It mostly affects people over the age of 30, and it often presents for the first time after a respiratory tract infection. This type of asthma tends to occur year-round.
Asthma can be triggered by irritants that aggravate the bronchial system, such as allergens. These common allergens can also trigger non-allergic asthma in some people – any types of irritants can cause inflammation in the airways and secretions of mucus that block off air flow.
FACT: Allergic rhinitis (often referred to as seasonal allergies) often occurs alongside asthma, but it's unclear whether it triggers asthma or vice versa .
Over 80% of people with asthma also suffer from seasonal allergies, with symptoms of itchy eyes, sneezing, blocked or runny nose, and sinus headaches presenting along with asthma symptoms .
Zinc is a key nutrient in the immune system where it helps to control the body's responses to allergens. Multiple studies have found that people with asthma often have lower levels of zinc, and that zinc insufficiency can cause an increase in allergy reactions  .
A 2016 study found that asthmatic children who took 30mg of zinc per day along with their regular asthma medications experienced significant improvement in the severity of their symptoms during asthma exacerbations . An early trial found that zinc supplementation improved the symptoms of coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing as well as measurements of lung health .
Licorice is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western herbal medicine traditions as a lung tonic, to soothe the bronchial system and reduce irritation in asthmatic airways. Studies have shown that licorice root has an anti-inflammatory effect on the tissues of the airways, and may help to reduce sensitivity to allergies and irritants .
Because it can soothe the airways, licorice root may be helpful in both intrinsic and extrinsic asthma.
The root can be taken as a tea, tablet, capsule, or as a liquid tincture.
CAUTION: Licorice root may alter blood pressure. Speak to a qualified herbalist or naturopath before taking licorice root, particularly if you have high blood pressure or are taking blood pressure medications.
You've heard about how the gut influences your immune system, right? Evidence shows that the quality of the beneficial bacteria and yeasts (aka probiotics) living in your gut affects the whole body's immune functions such as inflammation and allergies. While evidence is currently lacking, theory has it that supporting these good bugs by taking probiotics could reduce your sensitivity to asthma triggers . Strains that are known to have anti-allergy effects include Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus .
Prebiotics “eat” probiotics. Prebiotics are different types of fibre that survive digestion in the stomach and are then travel to the intestines where probiotics ferment them. This fermentation is essential – it is the byproducts of this process that create the body-wide benefits of having a healthy gut. If you are taking probiotics but not noticing any difference in your gut function or overall health, think about changing the kinds of fibre you are eating or adding a prebiotic supplement. Speak to a qualified nutritionist or naturopath for personalised advice.
Avoiding asthma triggers can seem difficult at first, but. Allergy testing can help to narrow down the allergen responsible.
Once you have identified your triggers, adjust your lifestyle to avoid them as best you can. For example, if dust is a trigger then vacuum regularly, remove rugs, and wash your bedding weekly to destroy dust mites.
Meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to help emotion-induced asthma .
Strengthening the lungs can also help to reduce the severity of asthma symptoms . Try regular mild to moderate exercise, such as swimming, yoga, walking, and tai chi. Speak to your doctor before starting if you have exercise-induced asthma.
Antioxidants are powerful anti-inflammatory agents, and many also help to strengthen the immune system against allergy reactions. Studies have found that adult asthmatics with the worst symptoms typically have a low dietary intake of antioxidant-rich fruits . Boosting these antioxidant nutrients (amongst many others) could help to reduce the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms:
Antioxidants work in combination with each other, so taking a supplement that contains multiple antioxidants is more effective than taking just one or two separately.
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