For the more than 25 million U.S. children and adults who suffer from asthma, an attack can be frightening: The muscles lining airways constrict, blood vessels inflame and swell, and mucus production increases—symptoms that render breathing difficult. Though experts aren’t entirely sure why asthma occurs, they do know that people with allergies, eczema, or family members with asthma are most at risk.
Doctors commonly prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, but studies show long-term use may have side effects such as increased risk of osteoporosis and cataracts. While asthma has no cure, heed these tips to manage the condition naturally.
Amorette LaFranchi, LAc, Dipl. OM, AcuBliss Oriental Medicine, Boulder, Colorado
- Decrease stress. Stress can trigger asthma attacks because it causes your qi (energy in the body) to stagnate, inhibiting beneficial blood flow to the lungs. Control stress with deep breathing exercises: For five minutes per day, sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground; inhale deeply through your nose and out your mouth, allowing your belly to inflate. This routine fosters proper oxygen flow and massages the large intestine for constipation relief—a condition common in people with asthma.
- Choose risk-lowering foods. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, walnuts are prescribed to asthma sufferers because they contain ample magnesium, a mineral that relaxes smooth muscle, controlling airway contractions. Eat a handful of raw walnuts per day, around 2 ounces. Also eat pungent, spicy foods such as mustard, wasabi, cayenne pepper, and horseradish, as well as pears, asparagus, and mushrooms—these foods expand blood vessels, nourishing lung qi.
- Take omega-3s. A high-quality fish oil supplement containing both DHA and EPA can dilate your bronchial tubes, minimizing asthma attacks. Aim for 1,500–2,000 mg fish oil per day. If you’re taking prescription blood thinners, reduce dose to 1,000 mg per day.
Shannon Sinsheimer, ND, Optimal Health Center, Palm Desert, California
- Pump up probiotics. There’s a strong connection between low probiotics in the digestive tract and increased asthma attacks. Children under age 2—who may have been on antibiotics for unrelated infections—often have unhealthy levels of gut microflora. Look for supplements containing 10 billion CFU Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum combined per capsule. Take one capsule with each meal.
- Try quercetin. This antioxidant flavonoid is naturally found in foods like apples, blackberries, and red grapes, but is also available as a supplement. Studies suggest it decreases the severity and frequency of asthma attacks because it’s a natural antihistamine. Take 500 mg quercetin three times per day.
- Embrace herbal tinctures. Soaking herbs in alcohol and then straining them preserves their medicinal qualities. Buy three professionally made herbal tinctures— lobelia, elecampane, and yerba santa—at a natural health store. Taking ten drops of each tincture, three times per day, will dilate your airways, reducing asthma symptoms.
Urgent care physician
David Ferrell, MD, MedExpress Urgent Care, South Parkersburg, West Virginia
- Seek natural cleaners. Volatile air particles from harsh cleaning products can exacerbate asthma. Choose cleaners with natural, plant ingredients derived from coconut and corn, and antibacterial essential oils like thyme. Steer clear of products containing bleach or chlorine, and use nonaerosol cleaners whenever possible.
- Avoid sulfites. Although the precise reason isn’t quite known, sulfites—a preservative found in processed foods, wine, and dried fruit—trigger attacks in 5 percent of people with asthma. Avoid sulfites by scrutinizing labels on packaged foods, and eat as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, and fish.
- Control acid reflux. Many who suffer from acid reflux have more intense asthma attacks. To reduce reflux, ditch highly acidic foods, such as coffee, carbonated beverages, processed sweets, and citrus; if you smoke cigarettes, enroll in a smoking cessation program; and get your weight under control by exercising frequently.