Asthma: Fix The Gasp

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Asthma comes from the Greek word, aazein, which means, “to exhale with open mouth; to gasp.” It is this typical feeling in asthma that makes its ‘victims’ run out of breath. Literally.

Asthma is a psychosomatic disorder — it is triggered by allergens [allergy-causing substances], dysfunctional relationships and emotional, or psychological, stress. It not only disrupts the family’s normal functioning, but also deflates the affected individual’s self-belief in their abilities.

Asthma is a chronic condition. It affects millions of people worldwide. Statistics reveals that the disorder affects 1 in 15 children, making it the most common, chronic childhood illness.

During an asthmatic attack, the lung’s airways [bronchioles] become inflamed. They begin to contract and are ‘flushed’ with excess amounts of mucous. This limits the airflow; it also makes breathing difficult.

Asthma attacks are triggered by environmental pollutants, cigarette smoke, animal dander, house dust mites [HDM] and cleaning agents. Other triggers include change of weather, air temperature, or humidity. Allergies and physical exertion can trigger asthma too.

Symptoms

  • Tightness, pain, or pressure, in the chest
  • An audible wheezing sound, especially while exhaling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough, especially at night, or in the early morning hours — although this may differ from one individual to the other.

Studies show that contributory factors, such as obesity and smoking, add up to the higher incidence of asthma. The adoption of Western lifestyle and rapid urbanisation is yet another cause for a steep rise in the incidence of asthma in India: from four to ten per cent. Children too are more prone to develop asthma today, owing to exposure to the ever-increasing sceptre of secondary cigarette smoke.

Fact-File

  • Asthma was first recognised and named by Hippocrates in 450 BC. Galen [130-201 BC] discovered that asthma occurred due to bronchial spasm
  • About 300 million people suffer from asthma globally; this number is estimated to increase to 400 million by 2025
  • Environmental factors play a significant role in asthma. In other words, a tendency to asthma is inherited, more so when one is exposed to trigger factors
  • You can control your asthma if you can recognise and correctly manage your environmental triggers.

Diagnosis

A physical examination, followed by spirometry and non-invasive lung functioning tests [LFT] will help to determine diagnosis. Your doctor may also examine your skin, and inquire about a medical history of hives, eczema, or skin-related allergies. This is analysed owing to a common link that exists between skin affections and asthma.

Picture this. Most of us are unable to breathe freely, when we are severely allergic to odour, smoke, pollutants, pollen, mould and house dust mites [HDM]. Just think of the ‘breath-distress’ of asthmatics… Or, imagine this — that you are caring parents keeping an eye on every breath your asthmatic child takes.

Self-Help

  • Use a spirometer and track your peak flow regularly. A peak flow meter measures the air flow out of the lungs. It also indicates a breathing problem before an emergency crops up
  • Eat a balanced diet, with at least 4-5 helpings of fruits and vegetables every day; keep yourself well-hydrated
  • Exercise regularly. Many asthmatics avoid exercise for fear of an asthma attack. Regular exercise, such as walking, will help strengthen overall lung and heart function and also help reduce asthma
  • Speak to your doctor and a qualified trainer for a customised exercise plan that suits you and your needs best
  • Take a multivitamin-mineral supplement daily
  • Increase your intake of vitamin C though food sources, or take a supplement [1,000mg, daily]
  • Take a magnesium supplement [400mg, daily]
  • Avoid common triggers, such as deodorants, perfumed cleaning agents and cigarette smoke, wherever possible
  • If stress and anxiety are the likely triggers, learn to manage them with meditation, relaxation techniques and yoga.

Things To Do 

  • Reduce dust and pollen in your household
  • During the pollen season, keep the windows closed; use an air-conditioner
  • Minimise dust by replacing carpets with tile, or wooden floors. Choose washable curtains and blinds
  • Vacuum clean upholstered furniture and mattresses regularly as well as your pet’s bedding
  • Wear a scarf over your nose and mouth during dusting, or when you go outdoors. Exercise, or practice yoga in the open air
  • Treat cold and flu at the drop of a sneeze. 

Take your medicine correctly. Speak to your doctor and find out all you can about your asthma medicine, dosages, including how and when to take it, and how it helps to control and manage your asthma. 

Know your asthma triggers and avoid them. It is essential to know what brings on, or triggers your asthma symptoms. These differ from person to person, so it could take a while to figure out what actually does.

Keeping an asthma diary is useful. Once you figure out your triggers, you can do your best to avoid, or at least limit, your contact [odours, dust, pollen and certain foods] with them.

Deal with emergencies. It is imperative to realise that even people who take their asthma medicine regularly as prescribed and who work to avoid triggers can have an occasional asthma attack. So, have an Asthma Action Plan in place:

  • Identify the signs just before your asthma starts to go of control
  • Look at symptoms and their nature
  • Know exactly what action to take, based on how you are feeling and what stage you are in
  • Do not ignore your asthma symptoms. Act quickly on danger signals to prevent, or avert an asthma attack
  • Consult your doctor immediately.

Treatment

Ayurveda

Ayurveda and homeopathic protocols are useful to treating asthma and its symptoms that are unique to the individual, and not just the outward signs — because, no two asthmatic individuals present with the same symptoms.

There has been, during the past few decades, significant scientific advances leading to improved understanding of asthma as a disease and treatment providing immediate relief. However, prevention of recurrent attacks, exacerbations and disease ‘cure’ remains a challenge. Ayurveda refers to bronchial asthma as tamaka swasa and it is well explained in Charaka Samhita.

Management of asthma in Ayurveda includes removal of vitiated kapha through shodhana, shamana procedures, herbal and herbomineral formulations in addition to advising a healthy lifestyle and diet. Several clinical trials on Ayurvedic formulations for the treatment of asthma are reported, however, whole system management of asthma has rarely been studied in the manner in which it is actually being practiced. Ayurveda therapeutics provides dosha-specific approaches, which may need biological investigation.

Aim of the study. The objective of this study was to investigate lung function and cytokine changes in asthmatic individuals in response to Ayurvedic intervention.

Methods. The study design was approved by the Institutional Ethics Committee of Tilak Ayurveda Mahavidyalaya [TAMV] & Sheth Tarachand Ramnath Charitable Ayurveda Hospital, and followed the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki and Tokyo for humans. It was conducted as a whole system individualised pragmatic clinical trial and written consent of patients was collected before enrolment. One hundred and fifteen patients with mild-to-moderate asthma were divided into two sub-groups depending on their disease subsets and administered phenotype specific Ayurvedic interventions. Seventy-six asthma patients completed the treatment. Serum immunoglobulin E [IgE] levels, blood eosinophil counts, spirometry and blood cytokine levels were measured before the start of treatment and six months at the end of treatment. Age and sex matched healthy participants [n=69] were recruited in the study for comparison of cytokines levels.

Results. Significant improvements in FEV1, or forced expiratory volume [% predicted] [p<0.0001] and FVC, or forced vital capacity [% predicted] [p=0.0001] was observed in asthmatic patients who underwent Ayurvedic treatment. Circulating levels of IgE [p<0.03] and eosinophil numbers [p=0.001] reduced significantly in the asthmatics after Ayurvedic treatment. This was associated with significant reduction in levels of circulating cytokines. Levels of Th2, Th1 and inflammatory cytokines in the peripheral blood were higher than healthy control participants at baseline [p values <0.0001] and reduced significantly after Ayurvedic intervention.

Conclusion. This proof of concept study highlights the potential benefits and possible mechanism of Ayurvedic interventions in patients with mild-to-moderate asthma. The interventions significantly reduced IgE and eosinophil count; they also improved lung function and reduced the levels of circulating Th2 cytokines.

  • K S Joshi et al, “Dosha Phenotype Specific Ayurveda Intervention Ameliorates Asthma Symptoms through Cytokine Modulations: Results of Whole System Clinical Trial.” J Ethnopharmacol, 2017, Feb 2;197:110-117. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.07.071. Epub 2016; Jul 26.

Homeopathy

In a study conducted at the University of Glasgow in UK, Europe’s largest medical school, asthma patients, given small homeopathic doses of the substance to which they were most allergic, showed significant relief within the first week of treatment. The researchers called this unique method of individualising medicines as ‘homeopathic immunotherapy.’ The study revealed the impressive positive results of homeopathic treatment without any side-effects. Over 80 per cent of patients given a homeopathic remedy improved.

In a double-blind, randomised placebo-controlled trial, a group of asthma patients was treated for four months with either specific homeopathic remedies, or placebo [dummy pill]. They were assessed using peak flow rates. 97 per cent of subjects taking homeopathic remedies experienced improvement, while only 12 per cent using a placebo showed progress.

A study, published in Biomedical Therapy, reported that a group of people suffering from corticosteroid-dependant asthma were given either a placebo or combination homeopathic formula, every 5-7 days. Using standard spirometry and other tests to measure the response, the study found that the homeopathic combination product provided superior results to placebo.

Nutrition

Many studies show that magnesium is a key mineral in treating asthma. A European study found that magnesium diminishes the ‘bursting’ of inflammatory white blood cells that often occurs in asthma and begins a cascade of reactions that result in wheezing and rawness. A study of asthmatic children treated with IV magnesium showed that this mineral alone improved lung function, and another study of IV magnesium in adults found that the mineral dramatically reduced hospitalisations.

Magnesium, along with fish oils and other herbs and nutrients, is a mainstay of my natural approach to reversing asthma. Every asthmatic patient of mine takes oral magnesium.

How does it work? Magnesium relaxes the bronchial muscles and prevents them from overreacting to allergic stimuli. It also seems to quench, or calm, the allergic response. In a sense, magnesium’s effect is not that different than bronchodilators and steroids, but instead of causing side-effects, like dry mouth and nervousness, magnesium leaves the patient in a calm state of well-being.

  • Dr Richard Firshein, DO, The Vitamin Prescription [For Life], Xlibris.
Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360. 

[This article was first published May 22, 2022]

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