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treating asthma

  • There is a definite substantiated connection between allergies and asthma. Studies indicate their underlying mechanisms may even cause each other. Up to 38 percent of patients with allergies have been diagnosed with asthma, and 78 percent of those diagnosed with asthma have allergies. Both as a physician and as a former allergy and asthma sufferer myself, I’ve witnessed the tie between the two conditions.

    I have believed for years they are all related to an overgrowth of a very common organism found in every one of us in our digestive tracts: Candida albicans. In my practice, I routinely and successfully guide allergy and asthma patients through a nutrition plan that dramatically reduce or completely eliminate their symptoms. I’ll touch on highlights of that plan, but first a few words on the individual conditions.

    Types of Allergies
    During an allergic reaction, your immune system is doing its job, but it’s overreacting. Typically, allergic individuals have developed an excess of the antibody IgE when exposed to a certain allergen. This ultimately results in the release of histamines and leukotrienes, causing the annoying allergy symptoms.

    Thirty percent of all adults and 40 percent of children suffer from hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, which is characterized by nasal congestion and itchy eyes. Alternatively, or additionally, an allergic reaction can involve rashes and other skin conditions and, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Reactions can occur due to allergen exposure via inhalation, injection, ingestion, or through skin contact. The symptoms can be very diverse, but usually involve the nose, eyes, lungs, and skin.

    If you have a diagnosed allergy, you’ve probably heard it categorized as an inhalant, infectious (gets worse when you’re sick), insect, drug, physical agent (such as cold, heat, or exercise), contact, or food allergy. A food allergy is different from a food sensitivity; the allergy is usually severe and causes a very noticeable reaction. Both the allergy and the sensitivity can respond well to complementary treatments though.

    Understanding Asthma
    Characterized by shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, asthma involves the combined effects of inflammation and muscle dysfunction in the airway. The inflammation cascade creates mucus, which worsens the obstruction, resulting in more inflammation—resulting in a vicious cycle. Asthma can be allergy-induced, but it is not always an allergic condition. Regardless, it is related to allergies in that both are the result of an over-reactive inflammation process.

    Asthma can be mild (about 50 percent of cases) which may require medication only as needed, moderate (40 percent of cases) sometimes requiring daily medication, or severe which involves frequent daily symptoms that need to be controlled carefully through daily medication. Severe asthma is the most life-threatening, however, all types can result in a lifethreatening attack and ought to be taken seriously.

    In the past, people usually were diagnosed with asthma as children and so understood the condition well by the time they were adults. But, increasingly, there are more cases newly diagnosed in adults.

    Where is this all coming from?
    Chances are your physician has discussed allergens or key irritants that you need to avoid or manage to help prevent your allergy or asthma from flaring up. Triggers are wide-ranged and can include: aerosol, pollution, dander, certain medications, estrogen, extreme temperatures, dust mites, smoke, pollens, molds, sulfites, specific foods, heartburn, chemicals and strong emotions. Other less avoidable triggers include your own heredity, viruses, and exercise.

    Managing triggers can be exhausting. Ultimately, it doesn’t do anything to actually remedy your condition. The trigger isn’t really the cause either. The cause is an over-reaction in the immune response. Remember the earlier comment about gut health? Let’s come back to that concept.

    There are more than 250 species of yeast—they are found in almost every baked good and we eat them all the time. More than 150 of these species are harmless parasites in our bodies. We all have Candida in our bodies; it normally lives in the gastrointestinal tract, the mouth, and the vagina as a part of the normal flora in the body.

    The trouble begins when there is an overgrowth of Candida. It lacks chlorophyll and is not able to produce its own food, so it acts like a parasite. This is usually kept under control by probiotics, the friendly bacteria in the body. Probiotics use yeast as food. As long as there is a good balance of the two, there is no problem. Candida overgrowth can occur due to dietary issues, chemical exposure, stress, or antibiotic use— Candida is a fungus; antibiotics do not kill it, but they can kill probiotics.

    Similar factors can also cause a condition called leaky gut. Imagine the cells of the gut, lining the interior in a honeycomb pattern. With leaky gut, there are gaps in the honeycomb where cells have broken down. Poorly digested food particles, pathogens, and yeast can now pass through into the body. Candida may wander to other parts of the body where it should not be, such as the lungs and sinuses. It causes inflammation and can result in chronic stuffy nose, sinus headaches, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and even muscle aches.

    With patients who struggle with allergies and asthma, and those who test positive for more than 10 food sensitivities, I can almost always assume the presence of leaky gut and treat for it accordingly. A Healing Phase Diet, which permits the gut to totally mend itself and rules out sources of yeast and foods that feed yeast, will last three months as long as you keep to the requirements. Straying even a little can draw out the healing period to six months or more.

    Similar to other cleansing diets you may know about, the basics of this nutritional approach are a little more intensive and involve:

    Ruling out sugar in all its forms. These are food sources for yeast, which includes all syrups, honey, molasses, chemical sweeteners, and fruit. Tomatoes, commonly mistook as vegetables, are fruits that need to be avoided too. Sushi rice usually contains sugar to make it sticky. Skip the lunch meats and processed foods—almost all have sweeteners in them; read labels.

    Ruling out all yeast and fungus sources. Refrain from consuming mushrooms and yeast-containing baked goods (if it rises, it contains yeast). Avoid vinegar and condiments containing vinegar; try using olive oil and lemon or lime juice to make your own salad dressing. Avoid all fermented foods, alcohol, dairy products (especially cheeses), and smoked and processed meats.

    Opening your mind to all the things you CAN eat! Most of the foods you’re avoiding are ingredients in highly processed foods. You’ll find yourself cooking healthier wholefood meals by default once you rule out the ingredients that have been keeping you in a state of inflammation and Candida overgrowth. (See the article “What CAN I Eat?” on page 12 to learn more)

    Supplementing with multivitamins, natural anti-candida herbals, and probiotics. In my practice, I recommend Alphabetic as a multi and build my patients’ vitamin program from there. Grapeseed extract, Caprylic acid, and garlic are effective anti-candida supplements. For establishing healthy probiotics, I use Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 PLUS, a vegetarian probiotic blend that has extensive research supporting it.

    Sometimes, major lifestyle changes like this seem overwhelming. But when compared to juggling medications and constantly avoiding triggers, most allergy and asthma sufferers are excited at the opportunity to breathe free naturally and bring their immune system back into a state of equilibrium. After the Healing Phase Diet it is also possible to go through a four-month careful reintroduction of many of the foods you’ve been avoiding.

    Dr. Fred Pescatore’s book, The Allergy and Asthma Cure provides in-depth description of the Healing Phase Diet and helpful recipes and menu plans. His book, Thin for Good, contains more cooking tips along with insight into the connection between yeast-overgrowth and weight management.

  • 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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