A Naturopathic Approach to Treating Asthma: Part II
If you haven’t read “A Naturopathic Approach to Treating Asthma: Part I”, now is the time to do so! In “Part I”, I discuss the basics about asthma and why certain medications may be appropriate. There are a variety of supportive naturopathic treatments available including treating allergies naturally, reducing inflammation, and decreasing the severity of asthma with the foods your child eats.
Creating an asthma-friendly home:
Lots of children have allergies to pollen, dust, and pet dander, which can make asthma attacks more frequent or more severe. Here are some simple tips that I recommend when a child’s asthma is exacerbated by allergies:
What to do weekly:
- Wash your linens in HOT water
- Place pillows in the dryer on high heat to rid dust mites
- Dusting and vacuuming of the home to cut down on dust mites and pet dander. Make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter – this is my favorite type to filter out small particles
- Brushing dogs and cats regularly can drastically reduce the amount of dander and hair that they leave around the house, which can be a major trigger for some kids
What to do daily:
- Have your child remove their clothing after coming in from outside, especially during times of high pollen counts or after playing in the grass. Sometimes pollens can stick to clothing, so it makes sense to remove that clothing and wash before wearing again.
- HEPA air filters can also be helpful in bedroom areas, especially if your child has allergies to dust mites or has asthma symptoms that are worse at night or in the morning
This is an alternative way to treat allergies similar to allergy shots. (But without the shots!) Sublingual immunotherapy drops are made based on your child’s actual allergies after they have been identified via skin prick testing (allergy testing) or a blood test. These drops are taken everyday and contain a very, very small dose of their allergens. This small dose works to expose the immune system a little bit at a time to their allergens. The immune system eventually is better able to tolerate those allergens when exposed to them in the future – without having allergy symptoms! Some families will work with an allergist but there are certain pharmacies that will formulate the specific drops once allergies have been identified.
Probiotics for asthma prevention and treatment:
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in our digestive tracts (also called our microbiota). Our microbiota is super important because it helps to digest the food we eat and it also interacts with our immune system. These bacteria can be influenced by many different factors, from the foods we eat, to medications (particularly antibiotics) that we take. Check out this post for more information on how to choose the best probiotic for your child.
Research has shown that infants who were exposed to antibiotics, either via their mother or taken directly, have an increased risk of developing asthma later on in life. This doesn’t mean that antibiotic use in infants CAUSES asthma, but that there may an INCREASED RISK of developing later on in life. This is because antibiotics alter the balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract and therefore changes how the bacteria communicate with the immune system. This change in communication leads to more general inflammation.
There is still more research that needs to be done on this topic, but I often recommend that infants who were exposed to antibiotics or who were born via C-section take a powdered probiotic supplement. Not only do I recommend probiotics for the possible prevention of asthma, but I also routinely recommend that they be taken as supportive treatments for asthma and to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
Natural treatments to decrease inflammation:
I explained in Part I how asthma is a chronic lung disease that is characterized by inflammation and swelling of the airways and sudden narrowing of the breathing tubes (remember those bronchioles?). This inflammation and swelling is what makes breathing difficult and often leads to the use of a child’s rescue inhaler (Albuterol inhaler). I briefly explained a few of the natural anti-inflammatories that I will use in children (and also adults) for asthma treatment in addition to medications, but here are some more details. Read on!
Omega 3 Fatty-Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning that the body can’t make them and that we have to get them from food. These fats are the building blocks of the hormones that help to regulate inflammation. There are supportive studies on using omega 3 fatty acids in helping to manage asthma. For children with asthma, I will recommend that they add in a fish oil supplement that is high in the omega 3 fatty acid called “EPA” (another one of the omega 3 fatty acids is known as “DHA” – this is helpful for brain health, EPA is more important for asthma and inflammatory conditions). It is also important to get these fats from food, more of this discussed below!
Quercetin works as an anti-inflammatory agent because it is made up of flavonoid molecules, which are potent antioxidants. Antioxidants work by getting rid molecules called “free radicals” that have the ability to damage healthy cells in the body. Free radicals can naturally occur, but sometimes they are produced when the body is exposed to things like cigarette smoke or air pollutants. The antioxidants in quercetin can help to get rid of these molecules that might exacerbate asthma. Querectin is also a natural anti-histamine. Histamine chemicals are produced by the body’s cells when the immune system detects an allergy or sensitivity and these histamine chemicals can cause symptoms like itching, sneezing, cough, and rashes. If your child has allergies that affect his or her asthma then quercetin would be an excellent addition to their treatment plan.
Magnesium is a mineral that can be beneficial in the treatment of asthma because it works as a bronchodilator (opening up the bronchioles to let more air pass through). Another benefit of magnesium is that it works as an anti-inflammatory mineral decreasing inflammation so that there are less breathing issues and asthma flares. Magnesium is also a natural muscle relaxant and it can relax the muscles that surround the bronchioles. This further relaxation of the surrounding muscles helps the airways open up so that more air can flow through – an important action for someone with asthma! Read more in our article about Magnesium.
Food sensitivities related to breathing sensitivities
It can be common for children with food allergies to also have asthma. There are lots of kids in my practice who have peanut allergies and who also have chronic asthma. These two conditions are associated, but it is important to understand that asthma is not caused by food allergies.
Food sensitivities or intolerances are different from a true food allergy. A reaction to a food allergy, like a peanut allergy, could result in immediate symptoms like anaphylaxis (severe trouble breathing) or a skin rash, like hives. Food sensitivities are not immediate reactions, but can happen days after the food has been ingested and less severe than a food allergy. There are blood tests for food sensitivities (IgG testing), but they are not very accurate, so the gold standard for testing is to do an elimination and challenge diet, or better known as “The Adventure Diet”!
Like I said in Asthma Part 1, the most common food sensitivities I see in children who come to my office are eggs, dairy, and gluten. If I suspect a food sensitivity in a child with asthma I will have them eliminate all 3 (gluten, dairy, eggs) or just one at a time for a minimum of 4-6 weeks. After that 4-6 week time period the food categories are added in one at a time in an organized fashion to see if there are symptoms of a food sensitivity. These symptoms can range from tummy aches to behavioral issues to more asthma or allergy symptoms.
Confused about how food sensitivities can impact your child’s asthma? Here is a different way to look at how food sensitivities can affect your child’s asthma: Imagine your child’s body as a cup and the water that gets poured into the cup as exposures or risk factors that affect asthma. Pour some water in the cup for dog dander allergy. Pour some more water in the cup for recurrent antibiotic use. And then pour some more water in the cup for food sensitivity to dairy, now the cup is overflowing. The overflowing water represents asthma symptoms, like coughing and wheezing. Perhaps, if your child avoided dairy then they wouldn’t have frequent asthma symptoms. Food sensitivities are another factor that the body has to deal with and if we remove that asthma can sometimes be better controlled. This is also demonstrates why the approach to treating asthma includes many different avenues – your child needs someone who takes all aspects of their health into account!
For step-by-step instructions on how to do an Elimination/Challenge diet check out the Naturopathic Pediatrics shop!
Food as medicine:
Eat your veggies
I’ve talked a lot about antioxidants and flavonoids found in supplements, but it is more important to get these nutrients from a whole foods diet. A lot of kids respond to the idea of “Eat a Rainbow,” of course I have to remind them that Skittles don’t count! The more color your child’s food has, the more antioxidants it has AND different colored fruits and veggies will have different types of antioxidants that the body needs. Fruits, like blueberries, plums, and pomegranates are great choices and vegetables, like spinach, yams, and broccoli can be beneficial. Another reason why it is important to encourage kids to eat a rainbow is because of the super mineral magnesium that can be found in fruits and veggies.
Here, fishy, fishy!
As I explained above, omega 3 fats have an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune system and can be beneficial for asthma. Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids include walnuts and cold water fish. Grass fed meats and dairy are also higher in omega 3 fats compared to grain fed varieties.
The sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D is one nutrient that I recommend often for children with asthma because vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased airway reactivity. Children with low vitamin D levels might be more apt to have bronchioles that are swollen and inflamed making breathing harder. Vitamin D supplementation has also been found to block the inflammatory process that happens in the lungs.
We get most of our Vitamin D from being exposed to the sunshine; however less Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin if you are living at higher latitude, like where I practice in Seattle. It is possible to get Vitamin D from food sources, such as fatty fish and fortified foods, like cereals and milks; however foods fortified with Vitamin D likely have poor absorption in the digestive tract because they are not in their natural form. Usually I end up recommending that children supplement with Vitamin D. It is important to discuss Vitamin D supplementation with your doctor because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that levels can build up in your body and have the potential to be harmful.
There are SO MANY ways to incorporate natural treatments for asthma! Sometimes this can be a little overwhelming, so I strongly recommend that children have a naturopathic doctor on their care team to help choose which natural therapies might work best for their specific case. Making some simple changes can have some pretty remarkable differences in your child’s breathing!
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