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asthma attacks

  • In 2012 I was a mess. Same with the year before. And the year before that. Truth be told, my body has been a mess in multiple ways for most of my life.

    No more.

    I am asthmatic, and have suffered a lifetime of severe allergies and sensitivities. During an annual physical, I watched my doctor's alarm when I told him I was using my asthma inhaler five to six times daily without getting relief. I soon found myself on a somewhat helpful but horribly dehydrating daily cocktail of two Benadryl, one 24-hour Claritin D, 10 mg of Singulair, and my asthma inhaler as needed. On one of my trips to the E.R. with an especially severe asthma attack, I was stunned to learn that I had developed a life-threatening allergy to steroids. What followed that E.R. trip was three and a half weeks missed from work, as my asthma attack blossomed into severe bronchitis, and I could no longer take steroids to reduce bronchial inflammation.

    I eventually got better. But despite my medications, I was still drippy, wheezy, and generally miserable every day. And that was just one of my serious health conditions.

    Eventually, I had an epiphany.

    In May 2013, I met with a colleague who happens to be vegan. Clutching my box of tissues and blowing my nose, I observed her radiant skin and boundless energy in stark contrast to the perma-mess that I had become, and had to ask myself what I was waiting for.

    I knew I needed to get off dairy for good and I had also read Dr. Richard Firschein, DO's theory in his book Reversing Asthma (Warner Books, 1996) that asthmatics have no business eating eggs, as the albumin is phlegm-producing. But egg and dairy are in so many dishes, and I anticipated that being vegan would be difficult and unpleasantly restrictive for me. So I stubbornly continued to resist change—eating my eggs and dairy, and feeling generally awful. Observing my colleague in that meeting, I decided I had had enough self-inflicted suffering. On that day I vowed to say goodbye to dairy and eggs. As I was already a vegetarian of 25 years, this meant I was essentially going 99 percent vegan (I still eat local raw honey to manage seasonal allergy symptoms). I also pumped up my leafy greens intake, and eliminated most processed foods.

    It was almost immediately apparent how beneficial this decision was for me. Within a mere three days I was mostly free of symptoms that necessitated taking those daily asthma and allergy meds. So on that fourth day, I stopped taking them. With each passing month, I have felt increasingly stronger as my body continues to detox. When pollen counts are high, I just eat raw, local honey and that manages my sniffles.

    But that huge benefit was only the beginning. In 1999, I had been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (P.C.O.S.), a hormonal imbalance that includes ovarian cysts and unpleasant, painful symptoms for which I was prescribed birth control pills (despite having my tubes tied in 1995 - how ironic). I had tried going off the Pill several years after my diagnosis, only to have my symptoms re-awaken with a fury. Since eating cleaner, I was curious to try again and see what would happen.

    According to the Harvard Gazette's interview of Dr. Ganmaa Davaasambuu, a scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, cows are milked approximately 300 days a year, and are pregnant for most of that time. When a cow is pregnant, her hormone levels are significantly higher, and those hormones are in her milk. When we eat dairy, we ingest a lot of extra hormones, presenting a variety of potential health consequences. As the Gazette article reports, "Dairy…accounts for 60 to 80 percent of estrogens consumed."

    Realizing that I had rid myself of unwanted excess hormones once I stopped eating cheese, I decided to really walk on the wild side and go off the Pill. And would you believe that not only was I P.C.O.S. symptom-free, but I also had regular periods for the first time ever? One month later, when my body was behaving like one in hormonal balance, I realized that my mood was much improved. Consequently, I was ready to try the final step of my experiment: going off my antidepressant. I suffered from depression since age five, and had been medicated for the past twenty years. But, I had also eaten lots of eggs and dairy for most of my life. I had tried going off my medication once before - it was a disaster, and I went right back on it. But not this time. Now, as I decreased my dose to zero, I noticed that I felt…FINE, for the first time in my memory. Talk about liberating. I was shaken to my foundation, in a good way.

    After reporting this story to my amazed and supportive doctor last July at my annual physical, I couldn't help sharing with him how moved I was by the experience I never dreamed would be mine: walking out of his office empty-handed, with no prescriptions.

    Ironically, the healing power of food is hardly news. In the late 5th Century, B.C.E., Hippocrates, widely regarded as the father of Western medicine, said, "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food." Even Hippocrates and his contemporaries understood that the effects of food can range from toxic to healing.

    Now, bio-individuality is surely real, and everyone is different. But what my body clearly needed was to get off the eggs and dairy. All it cost me to free myself from five daily medications that I evidently did not necessarily require was my willingness to forego eating the foods that made me sick and to add in a whole variety of new delicious foods that supported my health. Did I miss my cheese? For the first week, I absolutely did. But after that, I must confess that I no longer wanted to eat the way I used to, as nothing tasted better than feeling my new clarity and vibrancy!

    I had such a life-changing improvement in my health, made possible not by some modern miracle drug, but by thoughtful food choices. I hope that others who are suffering like I was can consult with their health professionals and embark on a similar healing journey.

    In future, I will be writing about the health benefits of whole foods, and I will share easy-to-prepare, delicious recipes to make your path to feeling great simple and enjoyable. Eating well doesn't have to be difficult, and it's my pleasure to share in your journey to optimal health.

    Marney White is a Holistic Health Coach living on Long Island, NY. She helps empower her clients to reach their wellness goals through an education in whole foods, including guided tours of the health food store and in-home cooking classes. You can read more about her and her programs at, and follow her on Facebook at Be Nourished Now, Inc., and on Twitter @Marneycakes.

  • Your lungs flank your heart like two guardians, delivering life-giving oxygen to your cells and expelling carbon dioxide, the waste product of energy production.

    The journey of inhaled air starts in the nose or mouth. From there, it flows into the windpipe and then enters the tubes of the bronchi — the muscular, branching structures in the lungs. Those branches narrow into hollow twigs called bronchioles.

    Each bronchiole ends in an alveoli, a two-way, microscopic air sac that absorbs oxygen and sends it into the bloodstream, and picks up carbon dioxide for disposal.

    Ahh . . . a breath of fresh air! Or maybe it’s aaah-choo. Because our respiratory system doesn’t always work like it’s supposed to. We can get upper respiratory infections, like colds, flu or pneumonia. The bronchi can become inflamed, clogged with mucus and go into spasm, triggering asthma.

    Asthma afflicts an estimated 27 million American adults and children, resulting in 500,000 yearly hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths from severe asthma attacks. And the problem is getting steadily worse. Over the last 25 years, the number of people with asthma has quadrupled and the numbers of deaths from asthma has doubled.

    Another respiratory problem is chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), which is usually caused by smoking. It has two main forms:

    1. Emphysema, in which the walls of the alveoli are injured and you’re constantly short of breath.
    2. Chronic bronchitis, in which you’re mucus-ridden, cough constantly, and breathe with difficulty.

    And there are many other acute and chronic problems that can bedevil the lungs, like acute bronchitis (a bacterial infection of the bronchi, usually occurring after a cold), or worse yet lung cancer.

    Fortunately, there are easy, natural ways to optimize lung function and help you breathe easier. Ways to thwart chronic respiratory infections, decrease inflammation, keep excess mucus in check, and relax the airways.

    In this article, I discuss a dozen, simple, lung-loving strategies, each of which is like a breath of fresh air.

    Optimizing Lung Function

    It’s important to know which area of lung function is associated with which specific lung health condition, and then take measures to optimize the functionality of that specific area.

    For those with asthma:
    Asthma represents a mix of spasm of the muscular airways combined with inflammation and increased mucus production. Allergies can aggravate both of these. Because of this, when optimizing lung health, it is especially important to focus on areas that calm muscles that are in spasm while balancing immune function. Things that help these include (the first two are most important):

    1. Take boswellia (1,000 mg daily). This herb helps balance the immune system. BosCur one cap 1–2 times a day can be especially helpful, as it has only the helpful components of the boswellia and has a form of curcumin which is highly absorbed. Both of these are very powerful immune balancers.

    2. Optimize vitamins and minerals. Many nutrients can optimize the health of your airways. They include vitamins B6 and B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and beta-carotene, along with the minerals magnesium, selenium and molybdenum — all of which you can find in the Energy Revitalization System vitamin powder. Instead of writing 3,000 words on why each of these can help and having you take 6–8 tablets a day, let’s keep it simple. Take the one drink a day of the vitamin powder for overall health.

    3. Support Adrenal Function. Just as prednisone (a synthetic cortisol steroid) helps asthma (with a slew of side effects), supporting your own natural adrenal cortisol production can help your breathing — but safely! A mix of licorice, vitamin B5, vitamin C, and adrenal glandulars will help support adrenal function and can be found in combination in Adrenal Stress End.

    4. Oil your alveoli. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can cool down an overactive immune system and help the airways in your lungs stay relaxed. Tuna, salmon, sardines and other fatty fish are good sources of omega-3s. For a lungoptimizing fish oil supplement, I recommend Vectomega, which has a bioidentical structure identical to that found in salmon (it surprised me to realize that most fish oils are not bioidentical), dramatically increasing absorption. 1–2 tablets a day are all you need, instead of 8–16 of most fish oil capsules.

    5. Take lycopene (30 –45 mg daily). This powerful antioxidant from tomatoes is most important for those with exerciseinduced asthma. In one placebo-controlled study, it was significantly protective after one week’s use in 55 percent of people with exercise-induced asthma. Why not just eat tomatoes? You’d have to eat a pound a day to get an optimal dose! Vitamin C 500 mg a day also helps exercise-induced asthma.

    6. Settle your allergies. Have asthma triggered by allergies?

    These tips can help:

    • Consider NAET. A special acupressure technique called NAET can make your lungs less sensitive to possible negative influences, like foods that injure your immune system. To find a practitioner, visit the NAET website. NAET knocked out my lifelong hay fever in one 20-minute treatment!
    • Add an electrostatic air cleaner to your furnace. As I wrote in my book Real Cause, Real Cure (Rodale, 2012), this device pulls allergens out of the air, a big help if your lungs aren’t functioning optimally. Doing this in our home knocked out my daughter’s asthma almost overnight. Your heating and cooling service company can guide you in picking and installing a unit, which costs about $800. Smart tip: Be sure the air cleaner filters can fit in your dishwasher, and wash them the first of each month. If you can’t install an in-furnace air filter, an alternative is a HEPA air filter in your bedroom. It’s not as thorough, but it’s extremely helpful.
    • Take measures in your home to decrease allergen load. This can include treating for dust mites (any allergist can guide you on this) while also considering special plastic wraps that go around the mattresses to collect the dust.

    For people with emphysema and chronic bronchitis:
    Emphysema represents severe lung damage, most often from smoking, toxic chemical/substance exposures, or chronic bronchitis. It can cause significant shortness of breath, wheezing, and limitations in activity. In the past, emphysema was felt to represent almost entirely irreversible lung damage and chronic bronchitis was the step before emphysema. Fortunately, there does appear to be a significant reversible component to both these conditions, and at these levels of lung damage even small increases in lung function can translate into large increases in your being able to function. This means aggressively going after the inflammation and airways spasm as discussed above for asthma (especially optimizing lung function using treatments one to three above).

    Interestingly, optimizing the levels of a key antioxidant called glutathione has been especially helpful.

  • Asthma is a respiratory disorder in which breathing difficulty is caused by temporary narrowing of the bronchi, the airways branching from the trachea to the lungs. In many asthma patients, inflammation of the lining of the airways leads to increased sensitivity to a variety of environmental triggers that can cause narrowing of the airways, resulting in obstruction of airflow and breathing difficulty. In some patients, the mucus glands in the airways produce excessive thick mucus, further obstructing airflow. Attacks usually are brought on by allergic reaction to antigens such as grass and tree pollens, mold spores, fungi, animal dander, dust mites, and certain foods; attacks may also be caused by chemical irritants in the atmosphere, including cigarette smoke, or by infections of the respiratory tract. In addition, exercise provokes attacks in some asthma sufferers. Likewise, emotions do not cause asthma but can, in some, prompt symptoms.

    Conventional medical treatment of adult asthma can include prednisone, oral bronchodilators, and a variety of inhalers, which usually contain either bronchodilators or synthetic corticosteroids. While these treatments can be very effective in relieving symptoms, they rarely improve the health of either the lungs or the body in general. There are also nutraceuticals that can be used as part of a complementary approach to asthma treatment. This includes vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, Ginkgo biloba, omega-3 Fatty Acids, and N-acetylcysteine.

    Vitamin C
    Research suggests that a diet low in vitamin C may be a risk factor for asthma.1 In fact, vitamin C levels of asthmatic children were found to be significantly lower than that for non-asthmatic children.2 Since evidence is accumulating that asthma may, in part, be a result of free radical reactions, and since vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help protect against these reactions,3 the importance of maintaining a healthy level of vitamin C intake should be emphasized. In fact, a review of scientific literature regarding vitamin C in asthma and allergy has revealed several studies that support the use of vitamin C. Significant results include positive effects on lung function tests, improvements in reactions to allergens, improvements in white blood cell function, and a decrease in respiratory infections.4 However, the same review revealed studies that did not show a beneficial role for vitamin C in asthma or allergy. Nonetheless, the general results are promising. Of particular interest is a study where 2000 mg of vitamin C was able to block exercise-induced asthma in eight of twenty patients.5

    Vitamin B6
    In one study, vitamin B6 levels were found to be lower in asthmatic patients than in non-asthmatics. In that same study, treatment with vitamin B6 caused patients to experience a dramatic decrease in frequency and severity of wheezing or asthmatic attacks while taking the supplement.6 A similar result was not seen with vitamin B6, however, in patients concurrently using steroids to treat their asthma.7 In any case, the use of the asthma drug theophylline has been found to decrease vitamin B6 levels in adult and children asthmatics.8,9Consequently, supplementation with vitamin B6 is a wise measure in asthmatics using theophylline.

    Magnesium participates in a number of biochemical reactions that seem to be important when lung function is disturbed. A low intake of magnesium in the diet increases bronchial reactivity (a problem in asthma). Magnesium supplementation reduces bronchial constriction and pressure in certain lung disorders.10 Research has shown that asthmatics have lower levels of muscle magnesium;11 as well as increased excretion of magnesium specifically in those patients with using glucocorticoid therapy.12 Furthermore, evidence suggests that magnesium supplementation has value in reducing asthmatic symptoms.13 In one study involving 17 asthmatic patients, a high magnesium intake was associated with improvement in symptoms.14 The Journal of Asthma reported that significant improvement of the asthmatic condition after a 4-week stay at the Dead Sea, "may be due to absorption of [magnesium] through the skin and via the lungs, and due to its involvement in anti-inflammatory and vasodilatory processes." 15 In the interest of preventing magnesium deficiencies, which might otherwise contribute to asthma and other conditions, researchers in Israel even recommended adding it to the national drinking water.16

    Ginkgo biloba
    Ginkgo biloba extract has been found to improve clinical symptoms and pulmonary functions in asthmatic patients, and was concluded by researchers to be an effective agent for airway anti-inflammation.17 One mechanism by which Ginkgo works is that it contains ginkgolides, which are antagonists of the potent inflammatory agent called platelet-activating factor (PAF). PAF plays an important role in disorders such as asthma.18 Similar benefits with Ginkgo and asthma were seen in animal research as well.19

    Omega 3 Fatty Acids
    The fatty acid, arachidonic acid (AA), can be converted via an enzymatic process into pro-inflammatory substances. Omega 3 fatty acids (O3FA) are able to compete with AA for enzymatic metabolism, which results in less production of less inflammatory substances. This same mechanism holds true for the inflammatory process involved in asthma, and the beneficial role of O3FA in treating this disorder. This was demonstrated in a clinical trial where O3FA significantly decreased bronchial hyper-reactivity in patients suffering from seasonal asthma due to airborne allergens.20 Similar research with O3FA in asthma has also shown a reduction of symptoms.21,22,23

    2,510 patients with acute and chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, and emphysema were given 200 mg, three times daily of the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) (173 were given a lesser dose). All selected parameters (coughing, etc.) improved.24 NAC may work by more than one mechanism. Since free radicals play a major role in a variety of human disorders including asthma, NAC antioxidant activity may quench the offending free radicals.25 Another possible mechanism has to do with air pollution, since an increase in respiratory symptoms in relation to levels of particulate pollution has been well documented. Animal research has shown that some of the particulate pollution caused a secretion of cytokines (inflammatory substances), which in turn caused lung inflammation. That same research demonstrated that NAC reduced the cytokine secretion.26

    Vitamin B12
    Sulfites are substances that are often used as an additive in the food industry (e.g., wine often contains sulfites). Of interest is that four to eight percent of asthmatics are sensitive to sulfites, and may experience a sulfite-induced bronchospasm. Research suggests that Vitamin B12 is capable of totally or partially preventing the bronchospasm induced by sulfites.27


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