What is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition characterized by bronchial hyper-responsiveness, causing swelling and narrowing in the airways of the lungs that can make breathing difficult. Asthma attacks are typically triggered by allergens and inflammatory cytokines.
Testing for IgE and IgG antibodies produced in response to environmental factors or certain foods is a good idea for those with asthma, as allergies and food sensitivities can contribute to asthma attacks.
Natural interventions such as vitamin D and selenium may help relieve symptoms in people with asthma.
What are Triggers and Risk Factors for Asthma?
- Triggers that can aggravate asthma include:
- Environmental and occupational allergens and irritants
- Respiratory infections
- Inhaled irritants such as air pollution, cigarette smoke, perfumes, or cleaning products
- Risk factors for the development of asthma include:
- A parent or sibling with asthma
- Having eczema or seasonal allergies
- Being overweight
- Exposure to cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, or other pollution
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma?
- Tightness of the chest
- Shortness of breath
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Asthma?
- Short-acting beta-2 agonists (SABAs) (eg, albuterol and levalbuterol)
- Corticosteroids, short or long term
- Theophylline, a bronchodilator with modest anti-inflammatory properties
- Inhaled anticholinergics to block acetylcholine binding and subsequent bronchoconstriction
- Long-acting beta-2 agonists (LABAs), and others
Note: Asthma is treated in a step-wise manner, usually beginning with low doses or short-term treatments. If mild treatment is insufficient, higher doses or combined medications may be considered.
What are Emerging Therapies for Asthma?
- Suplatast tosilate, a Th2 cytokine inhibitor that eases inflammation
- Omalizumab (Xolair), a monoclonal antibody that inhibits a key mediator of IgE
- Other monoclonal antibodies that modulate inflammatory response
- Pitrakinra (Aerovant), a blocker of interleukin-4-mediated inflammation
- Bronchial thermoplasty, a process in which radio-frequency energy destroys tissue in the airway to prevent constriction
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Be Beneficial for Asthma?
- Reduce exposure to known allergens and foods that cause sensitivity
- Get good sleep and manage stress
- Eat more fruits and vegetables – the Mediterranean diet has been linked with reduced risk of asthma and related symptoms
Note: While leisure-time exercise has been shown to reduce asthma symptoms, people with asthma are encouraged to exercise with caution and avoid overexertion in areas with high levels of air pollution.
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Asthma?
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating immune responses and inflammatory reactions. Multiple studies have found that lower vitamin D levels are associated with asthma development and exacerbation.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, inhibiting the release of inflammatory cytokines. Vitamin E levels may correlate with severity of asthma symptoms, and maternal vitamin E intake has been linked with asthma risk in infants and children.
- Vitamin C. Low vitamin C levels have been linked with asthma; supplementation was shown to improve symptoms in a few small clinical trials.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid intake, often acquired from oily fish or supplementation, may be associated with a lower risk of asthma. Intervention studies also demonstrated a potential benefit for fish oil and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for asthma.
- Probiotics. Probiotics may modulate parts of the immune response and inflammatory process. Probiotics have been shown to be effective in allergic rhinitis and in children with asthma.
- Selenium. People with chronic or severe asthma may suffer from a selenium deficiency. Supplementation has been shown in multiple trials to improve clinical symptoms and quality of life related to asthma.
- Zinc. Higher maternal zinc intake may protect against childhood wheezing and asthma. Low levels are also associated with more severe symptoms.
- Magnesium. Magnesium may relax bronchial smooth muscles. Multiple clinical trials have demonstrated that magnesium supplementation improved lung function, asthma control, and quality of life in asthma patients.
- Flavonoids. High dietary intake of several flavonoids, including quercetin and hesperetin, have been linked to lower incidence of asthma. Pycnogenol and ginkgo biloba therapy have shown positive effects in asthma patients.
- Butterbur. Butterbur extract has been used since ancient times to treat a variety of conditions. In patients with asthma, butterbur therapy, alone or in conjunction with traditional treatments, reduced symptoms.
- Other natural interventions such as curcumin, lycopene, Boswellia serrata, and Tylophora indica may help improve symptoms of asthma.