Asthma is a nightmare. There is nothing scarier than not being able to breathe or watching the ones you love not being able to breathe. It is important to treat asthma seriously and seek out the appropriate care. The care we get at a hospital or with asthma medications is meant to open up the airway by decreasing inflammation and making our airway bigger/dilated, which is necessary and life saving in an acute attack. But what would be even better than taking life-saving medications during an acute attack is to prevent the attack in the first place. And that is where naturopathic medicine shines, but more on that later!
What is Asthma?
Let’s start with what actually happens in asthma. When someone experiences difficulty breathing due to asthma, it is because their airway has less of a pathway for air to travel through. This happens for a multitude of reasons. 1. The smooth muscle surrounding your airway contract and spasm in response to something our body has recognized as a “threat” making the airway a smaller passageway for air. 2. The already small airway is filled with immune cells, inflammation, and mucous that prevent the “threat” from entering the lungs and causing further damage. Basically, the symptoms that we get in asthma are due to our body trying to protect us from further damage by the “threat” getting deeper into the body.
What triggers asthma?
Environmental toxins, environmental allergens, smoking, strong odors, weather changes, viruses, exercise, emotions, heartburn/GERD, and some medications are all potential triggers of asthma. When a person who has asthma is exposed to these triggers or “threats”, their airway becomes smaller leading to the difficulty breathing.
Why do some people have asthma and others don’t?
So why is it that some people can be exposed to these same triggers and not get asthma while others get exposed and they create an asthma response? This has to do with how many toxins the body is exposed to on a daily basis, how much inflammation the body has in it already, the body’s ability to detoxify, and how healthy the respiratory microbiome is. Unfortunately, in the toxic world we live in, we are exposed to environmental toxins every single day. Our body responds to these environmental toxins by creating some level of inflammation and either storing the toxins or removing them from the body. The more toxins we are exposed to, the greater toxic load/burden our body has which leads to more inflammation. The greater the toxic load and the greater inflammation the body has, the easier it is for a trigger or “threat” to create an asthma attack.
What are the long-term consequences of asthma?
Unfortunately, the more asthma episodes a person has, the more their airway becomes damaged and begins to undergo fibrosis. Fibrosis basically means hardening of the walls of the airway which decreases their functionality. There is so much we can do with naturopathic medicine to prevent these long-term consequences and have a healthy respiratory system for the rest of your life.
How Naturopathic Medicine targets the root cause of asthma?
Now that we know more about asthma, let’s talk about a naturopathic approach to helping someone with asthma. As a naturopathic doctor, my goal is to treat the ROOT CAUSE of asthma and HEAL the WHOLE BODY. This means taking measures to decrease the toxic load and inflammation in our body. Here are the fundamentals of how a naturopathic doctor would help a person who experiences asthma.
- Heal the gut. When we heal the gut, we focus on eating a healthy diet, decreasing inflammation, restoring our gut microbiome, and allowing out gut to heal from any damage that has incurred during the lifestyle we currently have.
- Decrease environmental toxin exposure. This means addressing what we put in our body, what we put on our body, what we breathe in, what we listen to, and what thoughts we have. Since our home is where we spend the majority of our time (including our precious sleep), this especially includes education on making the home environment as free of environmental toxins as possible.
- Supporting our organs of elimination. Our body is designed to remove toxins and waste. Our liver, skin, lungs, kidneys, digestive system, lymphatic system, and circulatory system all work together to eliminate toxins and wastes from our body. By supporting these organs, we can decrease our toxin burden, decrease inflammation, and prevent asthma attacks.
- Eat a healthful diet. By eating an organic, plant-based, whole foods diet, we are healing our gut, decreasing environmental toxin exposure, supporting our organs of elimination, and giving our body the necessary nutrients to function appropriately. Eating a healthy diet, also means not eating foods you are allergic to or sensitive to. We often see food sensitivities/allergies in people who have asthma. Avoiding these food sensitivities/allergies is a main component of treating asthma because it decreases a lot of inflammation in the gut which decreases inflammation throughout our entire body, including our airway.
- Decreasing inflammation. Although everything we talked about so far will decrease inflammation, there are so many other things that specifically target decreasing inflammation in the body like eating omega-3 rich foods, adding turmeric into meals, drinking adequate amounts of water, and the list goes on and on.
- Botanical medicine and homeopathy are two amazing modalities to help support the respiratory system and entire body in the naturopathic treatment of asthma. There are specific plants that we use in botanical medicine that support your immune system, decrease inflammation, and decrease the contraction of the smooth muscle in your airway to help prevent asthma or help open the airway during an asthma attack. Homeopathy supports the entire body in healing and helps a person respond more appropriately to asthma triggers.
- Breathing exercises and movement help exercise the lungs. This helps to clear any mucus and inflammation that is in the lungs. It also helps bring more blood flow to our respiratory system which brings, oxygen and nutrients and everything our lung tissue needs to heal.
- Supplementation is not a go-to for me as a naturopathic doctor because there are so many nutrients in supplements that we can get from our diet instead. But there is a time and a place for supplementation in regards to asthma. One supplement I would consider is magnesium because it can become depleted when using an albuterol inhaler, which is a common medication given to those with asthma. Magnesium acts as a smooth muscle relaxant to prevent the spasming and contraction of the smooth muscle surrounding the airway creating less constriction of the airway. There are many other supplements that contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and probiotics that help in the prevention/treatment of asthma.
- Hydrotherapy is another modality used by naturopathic doctors. Hydrotherapy is the act of using hot and cold water to bring blood flow to the lungs, to detoxify the body, and to stimulate the body’s own healing vital force.
- While treating the root cause and healing the body with everything we’ve talked about so far, it is important for a person with asthma to have the appropriate asthma medications/inhaler to use when they experience difficulty breathing. This can be life saving and therefore, something that should be a part of the treatment plan. That being said my goal as a naturopathic doctor is to help you treat the root cause of the asthma and heal the whole body so you can go completely off the pharmaceutical medications in the future. There are side effects to the pharmaceutical medications used in asthma with the most concerning being suppression of immune system and inflammation caused by steroids. In general suppressing symptoms alleviates symptoms for now, but often drives the pathology deeper. Diet, lifestyle changes, and other naturopathic medicine modalities do the opposite of helping to drive the pathology out of the body rather than deeper into the body.
In our patients, we often see a triad of asthma, allergies, and eczema either all at one time or in succession. This is because they all have their causes rooted in immune system dysregulation, inflammation, and increased toxic load. Thankfully, the naturopathic approach of treating the root cause and healing the whole body in regard to asthma helps to prevent/treat allergies and eczema as well.
On the path towards health and healing
If you or your child has asthma, there is so much that can be done to help. Do NOT accept the fact that you or your child will have asthma for the rest of your/their life. Making changes in your diet and lifestyle and using other naturopathic modalities can be LIFE CHANGING and completely reverse asthma. If you have asthma, it is time to heal your whole body and get your lungs breathing better!