Asthma is a narrowing of the airways in the lungs when the muscles around the airways tighten and the lining of the airways swell up. Triggers such as cold air, dust, animals, infection, exercise, food additives, fumes, medicines, pollens and even emotions can cause spasms, inflammation or excessive mucous production. The most common signs of asthma are difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, a wheezy sound and a cough.
Asthma is a major issue in New Zealand. One in four of our kids and one in six adults suffer from asthma, over 600,000 people. It hasn’t always been this common and research hasn’t come up with a definite answer as to why it is becoming more common, but our lifestyles do seem to have many contributing factors. The major suspects seem to be allergies, diet and poor digestion.
Many cases of asthma are caused by allergies, often to an everyday substance like pollen, animal hair and foods. When the person comes into contact with that substance, their immune system starts to react which then causes inflammation throughout the body. These people will often also suffer from eczema, hayfever and IBS. Identifying and avoiding the allergen is the key to reducing asthma symptoms.
The average modern diet is high in refined sugar, preservatives, colours, flavours and pesticides. High levels of sugar in our diet can disrupt the gut and cause inflammation in our bodies. For someone with asthma in the family, this could be enough to turn on their asthma. Eating a diet with a balance of fruits, veges, low GI carbohydrates, protein, fish and free from the nasties mentioned, is ideal. You may wish to experiment with removing wheat and dairy from your diet to try and reduce mucous production.
- Poor digestion
Good digestion is vital for good health. If the gastrointestinal system is disrupted, the person can begin to react more and more to foods, causing more inflammation and imbalance of the immune system.
The good news is that by understanding and correcting these factors, it is possible to heal the gut, stabilise the immune system and reduce the frequency and severity of your asthma.
Your doctor will prescribe the best treatment regime for you. The treatment, which is commonly an inhaler, is designed to make your lungs as normal as possible so you stay free of symptoms and reduce interruption to your life. Altering your diet and supplements can also help you gain better control of your asthma.
Research has shown that oil from eating fish twice a week lowers your risk of asthma by 30%. Even if your asthma is established, fish oils can reduce the irritability of the airways so improve symptoms. A fish oil supplement can be used but take care selecting one if you have soy allergies.
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that live in our gut and maintaining good levels of beneficial bacteria may promote a healthy immune system and improve digestion.
Low levels of magnesium in our soils mean that many New Zealanders are deficient in this mineral. If you are deficient, you may notice that you feel irritable, have trouble sleeping, twitching muscles and cramps, headaches and fatigue. In asthma, supplementing with magnesium may help strengthen the lining of the lungs and improve muscle function.
Quercetin is thought to act like a natural anti-histamine and helps to relax smooth muscles. Foods rich in quercetin include berries, apples, red onions, cabbage, carrots and watercress.
Please note that these supplements are not in place of your prescribed medication. They should be started alongside your inhaler/s and then doses adjusted with your doctor if necessary. It is vital for long term optimal health to control your asthma; this means having symptoms less than three times a week and not waking at night with asthma. Follow a self management plan to help you work out how well you are and know what to do if your asthma changes. Asthma Centre Hawkes Bay is another good source of information and can be contacted on (06) 835 0018 or at 167 Marine Parade, Napier.
The information provided in this column is to be used as a guide and is not intended as a comprehensive medical service. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.