asthma, acetaminophen, inflammation, free radicals, methylation, systemic enzymes, omega-3, vitamin C, vitamin E, OPC,

Asthma: Inability to Move Air

Asthma: Inability to Move Air

© 2012 Dr. Dale Peterson &

Asthma is a condition that affects the bronchial tubes through which air passes as it moves in and out of the lungs. In asthma the bronchial tubes become swollen and muscles in the bronchi tighten causing the tubes to narrow. As the bronchial tubes swell and constrict it becomes increasingly difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.

In most cases it is more difficult to move air out than to take air in. Stagnant air becomes trapped in the lungs and breathing becomes a series of shallow, quick gasps that fail to meet the oxygen demands of the body. The condition is distressing at best and can be fatal if free air flow is not restored in time. I lost a close friend to an asthma attack in 1992. She was visiting her mother in Atlanta when she suddenly began wheezing and gasping for air while they were working in the kitchen. She died before rescue workers arrived on the scene.

Asthma is characterized by episodes of wheezing and shortness of breath alternating with symptom free intervals. It is important to recognize that the disease may be progressing even when symptoms are not present. Effective management of asthma requires proactively taking steps to correct the underlying mechanisms that cause the attacks rather than simply reacting to attacks when they are present.

Many different factors can trigger an asthma attack. Asthma can occur as an allergic reaction to animal dander, dust, mold, or pollen. Inhaling cold air may act as a trigger as can exposure to pollutants in the air such as tobacco smoke. Asthma commonly develops in response to a respiratory infection, such bronchitis or the common cold. Some will experience asthma in stressful situations or when under emotional duress. Exercise can also trigger attacks in susceptible individuals.

Regardless of the immediate trigger, inflammation is the chief mechanism by which asthma occurs. It is inflammation within the bronchial tubes that causes the swelling and narrowing of the airways. A second important mechanism in the development of asthma is oxidative damage from free radicals. Loss of methylation, a key step in the manufacturing of antioxidants, also plays a role. Addressing these factors can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

The prevalence of asthma over the past fifty years has an interesting and perhaps revealing pattern. The prevalence of and death rates from asthma declined sharply during the 1960s. They leveled off during the 1970s, but rose sharply through the 1980s and 1990s. This does not fit with the oft voiced theory that the rise in numbers of asthmatics was due to air pollution and second hand smoke exposure. Those factors were declining as asthma prevalence was rising.

One factor that may explain why the decline in asthma prevalence ended in the 1970s was the mandate that catalytic converters be placed in motor vehicles. Catalytic converters spew platinum-containing compounds into the air and platinum is known to irritate the airways and increase the risk of asthma. It is quite likely that while the air appeared to be clearer as vehicles with catalytic converters hit the streets and roads, the risk of developing asthma from breathing the air actually increased.

There is another factor in the rising asthma rates that is finally being recognized by medical authorities. The November 2011 issue of the journal Pediatrics carried an article written by John T. McBride, M.D., a pediatric lung specialist. In it he listed seven reasons for considering acetaminophen use the cause of the dramatic rise in the number of asthmatic children since 1980. The reasons were (1) the strength of the association (studies have repeatedly shown an association between acetaminophen use and asthma risk); (2) the consistency of the association across age, geography, and culture (increasing acetaminophen use in various countries and cultures has consistently led to higher asthma rates); (3) the dose-response relationship (the greater the use of acetaminophen the greater the risk of developing asthma); (4) the timing of increased acetaminophen use and the asthma epidemic (acetaminophen replaced aspirin as the fever reducer of choice in infants and children around 1980, the exact time that the rise in asthma prevalence began); (5) the relationship between per-capita sales of acetaminophen and asthma prevalence across countries; (6) the results of a double-blind trial of ibuprofen and acetaminophen for treatment of fever in asthmatic children (children receiving acetaminophen were significantly more likely to experience an asthma attack than those given ibuprofen); and (7) the biologically plausible mechanism of glutathione depletion in airway mucosa. (Glutathione is one of the body’s antioxidants. Oxidative damage in the bronchial tubes is one of the underlying causes of inflammation leading to asthma. Acetaminophen depletes the substances needed in the manufacture of glutathione in the body.)

Because asthma is a serious and potentially deadly condition much is to be gained by preventing its development. One of the keys to preventing asthma is avoidance of acetaminophen during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. If use of the drug was banned in expectant mothers and children it is quite likely that the prevalence of asthma could be cut in half. Because immunizations also deplete substances needed to manufacture glutathione (via a process called methylation), delaying immunization until a child has reached the age of two could further reduce the number who develop the disease.

Much can be done to reduce the number and severity of asthma attacks. The underlying mechanisms of asthma – inflammation, free radical damage, and loss of methylation ability – can be addressed and reversed. I have seen many asthmatics who no longer needed medications and who were able to lead lives free of asthmatic attacks once they understood the factors involved and began addressing them systematically.

Effective asthma management begins with an anti-inflammatory diet. This is the type of diet described by Dr. Barry Sears in his best-selling book, The Zone. In a nutshell, it consists of dividing one’s plate into thirds. One third of any meal consists of a protein source and the other two-thirds of complex carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and fruits. A tablespoon of fat such as olive oil, flax oil, or coconut oil is also included. Refined carbohydrates (e.g. white sugar, white flour, and white rice) are avoided. It is important not to overeat as an overstuffed stomach impedes the free movement of the diaphragm making breathing more difficult if an attack should occur.

Exercise may trigger an asthma attack, especially in teenagers, but exercise-induced asthma is not a reason to be inactive. It is estimated that one in ten world-class athletes is affected by exercise-induced asthma. A 1984 study of U.S. Olympic athletes found that 67 (11%) had some degree of exercised-induced asthma. These athletes won a total of 41 medals. Asthma tends to be less of a problem in activities such as swimming or bicycling where the body horizontal rather than upright. Activities with rest periods such as baseball, tennis, golf, and volleyball are better tolerated than sports such as basketball or soccer that require prolonged exertion.

Air purifiers should be used in the home and, if possible, the workplace. Air that is free of particulate matter is less irritating to the airways and is much less likely to promote inflammation in the bronchial tubes. Likewise, it is important that an asthmatic not smoke or be exposed to second-hand smoke. Free radicals promote inflammation and cigarette smoke contains a quadrillion (1,000 trillion) free radicals per puff.

If a member of the family has asthma I recommend that pets not be introduced into the home. I stop short of suggesting that an existing pet be removed as the emotional toll of doing so may render the action counterproductive. Outdoor pets are less problematic, as there will be less exposure to dander. Use of effective grooming tools and products that reduce the production and release of dander are also helpful.

House dust, which contains dust mites, can be a significant factor in triggering asthma attacks. Bare floors that are kept clean are a better choice than carpeting, especially in bedrooms. It is best to use pillows and bedding materials that do not retain dust. Feather pillows can be especially problematic. Stuffed animals can also become a challenge as they age

It is important to avoid activities where the air is likely to be dusty. Examples are hayrides, straw or hay mazes, dirt-based playgrounds, and freshly mowed lawns. Since cold air can trigger an asthma attack it may be helpful to wear a mask or cover the face with a scarf when going outside when the temperature is low.

Inflammation, free radical damage, and loss of methylation potential can be addressed nutritionally. Omega-3 fatty acids provide the raw materials needed by the body to manufacture anti-inflammatory substances. At least 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA should be consumed daily. Systemic enzymes are the body’s clean-up crew and are quite helpful in controlling inflammation. Four to six capsules may be taken 2 or 3 times daily. They must be taken on an empty stomach, at least one hour before or two hours after eating, to be effective.

Adrenal hormones are key substances in the body’s battle to control inflammation. Most asthma medications mimic or enhance the actions of adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol (cortisone). I have found that use of an adrenal support formula can dramatically improve asthma over time. One I recommend is AD Formula in the amount of 1 – 3 capsules twice daily.

Antioxidant support is of particular importance. Studies have shown that asthmatics tend to have lower levels of antioxidant substances such as vitamin C and vitamin E in their bronchial tubes than people without an asthma history. A broad-spectrum vitamin/mineral support should be taken. It may be helpful to take additional vitamin C and vitamin E depending upon the amount found in the basic formulation. At least 1000 mg of vitamin C twice daily and 400 IU of vitamin E daily should be provided. Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) such as grape seed extract or resveratrol are super antioxidants and as such can significantly improve an asthma condition.

The methylation process that leads to the manufacture of the antioxidant glutathione requires a number of nutrients including a source of methyl groups, B vitamins, and magnesium. I recommend a product called Activator that contains these in combination. A substance called homocysteine accumulates if the methylation process is compromised. If the blood level of homocysteine is greater than 7.2, HCY Formula, which goes a step beyond Activator, should be used beginning with 3 capsules twice daily. It is not necessary to take both products simultaneously.

Because magnesium is the body’s natural muscle relaxant, supplemental magnesium beyond the amount typically found in basic vitamin/mineral products can be quite helpful in easing the constriction of airways by bronchial muscles. 400 to 600 mg. of a chelated form such as magnesium citrate or magnesium aspartate should be taken twice daily.

When working with asthmatic individuals in person I use body programming to reduce the emotional component of asthma and to reduce or eliminate allergic reactions to offending substances. This can further reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

I also check to be sure that there is no structural issue to interfere with breathing. I have seen adults that suddenly developed asthma after slipping, falling, or lifting a heavy object. In these cases a rib had become slightly dislocated and was not moving freely. Repositioning the rib resulted in an immediate cure of their supposedly incurable disease.

In spite of taking measures to address the mechanisms of asthma, medications may be required. Work closely with your personal physician. The goal should always be to control the asthma so that you can live the life you want to live rather than letting the asthma control you.

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