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Breathe Easy

old message Breathe Easy Darrell Miller 06/14/05


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Date: June 14, 2005 06:19 PM
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Subject: Breathe Easy

Breathe Easy

by Edward Bullard, III Energy Times, March 1, 1998

Don't underestimate the danger of asthma. When an asthmatic attack chokes the passageways to your lungs, cutting off your air supply, the consequences can prove frightening and disastrous.

Although asthma is the leading chronic illness among children, most sufferers are adults. The condition ranks as the 7th most common chronic affliction nationwide affecting 14 to 20 million people; about 11 million of these are over the age of 18.

The American Lung Association estimates that between 1982 and 1992 the total number of asthma cases jumped by more than 57%. Researchers can't pinpoint the reasons for this rise, but they have found that urban dwellers suffer a higher asthma risk.

Despite the gloomy statistics, those who suffer asthma can take reassurance from the progressive development of complementary and conventional treatments that control this condition. Anyone who suffers asthma should consult with a knowledgeable health practitioner.

How does asthma start? This airway problem may originate with allergies and sinus or bronchial infections (the bronchi are the tubes leading to the lungs). Some experts believe that air pollution, dust mites, cockroach remains and other environmental toxins may exacerbate the condition.

A family history of allergies and asthma also increases your asthmatic vulnerability since your genes may make you more prone to the airway inflammation that leads to breathing constraints.

Allergic reactions to food have been implicated in causing restricted breathing. Food found to most frequently instigate immediate lung difficulties include nuts, peanuts (which are, technically, legumes not nuts), eggs, shellfish and fish. Foods that do not cause immediate wheezing but may produce a delayed respiratory effect include artificial food colorings, wheat, citrus fruits, milk, chocolate and wheat products.

Since an allergic reaction to particular foods can apparently play a role in asthma, some people find relief by systematically eliminating foods from their diets, identifying troublesome items and then permanently avoiding those foods.

Asthma's Nutrition Gap

According to Richard N. Firshein, D.O., director of the Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City, asthma stems from cells' "disordered metabolism." In these circumstances, the body's immune system often mistakes allergens (normally benign substances) for infectious agents. In strenuously defending itself against allergens, the body goes on "red alert," says Dr. Firshein in his book Reversing Asthma (Warner), "exhausting itself in the process." This creates a need for extra vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Too often, he believes, this nutritional need is not met and asthma ensues.

In the presence of asthma, magnesium can help restore free breathing. Dr. Firshein reports that about 50 years ago, medical researchers discovered that treating asthma victims with magnesium sulfate opened up breathing passageways. Although magnesium by itself does not completely alleviate asthma attacks, many emergency room doctors still use it in conjunction with other treatments to restore breathing.

In explaining magnesium's usefulness in alleviating asthma, Dr. Firshein notes that magnesium competes with calcium in each cell to influence asthmatic reactions. For instance, calcium stimulates mast cells (reactive immune cells) to release histamine, a chemical that foments allergic reactions that hinder breathing. Conversely, magnesium "stabilizes" mast cells, quieting their activity so that they retain their histamine instead of flooding breathing passages.

In addition, calcium takes part in muscle contractions that can constrict breathing tube muscles. Magnesium can help relax those same muscles.

Although intravenous treatment with magnesium for acute asthma attacks must be carried out by a trained health professional, taking magnesium supplements over a period of time, may gradually help assuage asthma's wheezes.

How do you tell if you're short of magnesium? Standard blood tests of magnesium levels may be inadequate. As Dr. Firshein points out, normal blood tests only examine the amount of magnesium floating in the blood's plasma. That level can apparently appear sufficient even if red blood cells are magnesium-deficient. (Dr. Firshein recommends asking your health practitioner for a special red blood cell test.)

Ephedra for Asthma

Ever since about 3,000 BC, Chinese health practitioners have been giving the herb ma huang (Ephedra sinica) to asthma sufferers. In the 1920s, western medical researchers extracted a chemical called ephedrine from ma huang and soon synthesized this substance for use as a pharmaceutical. However, herbal experts believe that there are other beneficial substances in ma huang besides ephedrine that can ease breathing.

Although ephedra has been used successfully to ward off the allergies of hayfever as well as mild asthma, when this herb is taken over a long period its benefits may lessen. The reason: eventually the herb's ephedrine weakens the adrenal glands, according to Michael Murray, ND, and Joseph Pizzorno, ND, in the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Prima). To offset this effect, they recommend supporting the use of ephedra with licorice (Glycerrhiza glabra) as well as ginseng (Panax ginseng) which support the adrenals. In addition, vitamins C and B6 and zinc and magnesium plus pantothenic acid also boost adrenal function.

Licking Asthma with Licorice

Since much of asthma's deleterious effects on health stem from the fact it inflames breathing passageways, licorice root, which acts to squelch inflammation and which calms allergies, can be helpful in restoring normal breathing. Licorice, according to Drs. Murray and Pizzorno, promulgates the persistence of cortisol in our body, a hormone that acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.

As an extra benefit, licorice can also forestall the side effects of cortisone, one of the most widely prescribed medicines for asthma. Licorice also boosts cortisone's desirable anti-inflammatory action while inhibiting the action of enzymes that would otherwise increase unwanted inflammation.

Onions + Garlic = Better Breath

Despite their reputation for giving you bad breath, both onion and garlic can improve the breath of those afflicted with asthma. The reason: both of these plants restrict the action of an enzyme with the tongue twisting name of lipoxygenase, a chemical that helps produce inflammation.

Studies with animals showed that when they were fed onion extract, their induced asthmatic problems decreased. Part of onion's benefit may be due to its quercetin content. (Quercetin is a bioflavonoid available as a supplement.) Onion also contains mustard oils, which are believed to slow the body's production of leukotrienes (substances that also increase inflammation).

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, the most abundant antioxidant nutrient in the lungs' inner lining, apparently protects against respiratory problems. Studies of people with asthma show that they possess less vitamin C both in their circulating blood and in white blood cells. When researchers induced bronchial constriction in people who volunteered for respiratory studies, they found that those given vitamin C didn't have as hard a time breathing. Experts recommend healthy doses of vitamin C plus other antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E, carotenoids and selenium to lower the risk of allergic reactions and ease breathing. Antioxidant nutrients restrict the action of free radicals, molecules that attack the lungs and other parts of the cardiovascular system.

Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) also effectively fights inflammation without causing serious side effects. Experts believe its bioflavonoids stop the body from making biochemicals that inflame tissues. Aside from restricting inflammation, these bioflavonoids also act as antioxidants.

Strength in Numbers

Asthma support organizations can provide vital information: Organizations American Lung Association 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-43741 (800) LUNG-USA llergy & Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics Inc., 3554 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 200, Fairfax, VA 22030 (703) 385-4403, (800) 878-4403 th/aanma Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America,1125 15th Street, N.W., Suite 502 Washington, DC 20005 (800) 727-8462

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