By Dr. Nicole Sundene, NMD
Scottsdale Naturopathic Doctor
"What can I do naturally to treat my asthma?"
~Alexis L Scottsdale, AZ
Personally, as a Naturopathic Doctor with asthma, I do not EVER use naturopathic medicine to treat an asthma attack. I use it to prevent them. Naturopathic Medicine works wonders for the reduction of asthmatic incidences.
Although there are plenty of natural medicines available that may stop an asthma attack, I just prefer to error on the side of safety, and always recommend that asthma is co-managed with an MD, as I take the treatment of asthma VERY seriously. An MD can provide you with all the rescue medications you need for acute attacks, and an ND can help prevent these attacks from occurring. Or if you are working with an NMD such as myself then I can do everything on this page for your asthma and generally save you multiple trips to different doctors as an Integrated Health specialist.
I recommend all my asthma patients have asthma inhalers on hand and am happy to prescribe albuterol and albuterol home breathing treatments. But what I have found myself since having asthma in 2012 following a bad respiratory infection is that if I do the following preventive plan I rarely need my inhaler and just replace it when it expires once a year. If I get sick I like to know I have it on hand as viral infections can impair breathing.
First and foremost, asthma is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires supervision and treatment by a licensed physician. Always call 911 if having an asthma attack that is unresponsive to inhalers.
- The following suggestions are only helpful in PREVENTING attacks, not TREATING them.
- Treating an asthma attack is always going to fall back on the use of an albuterol “rescue inhaler” or nebulizer treatment. Call 911 or go to the ER if your inhaler cannot control your attack. Please do not come to my clinic with an asthma attack as I quit urgent care and emergency medicine 15 years ago and am only set up to manage chronic disease.
Remember that prevention is KEY with most diseases, and that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. The goal with any preventative program is to reduce the overall amount of daily medications you have to take for your asthma. Diet and lifestyle factors are the key to reducing the amount of medications needed to control your symptoms.
Adopting a preventative program takes time, dedication, and discipline; if you want your asthma symptoms to improve, the only way that realistically will happen is through better diet and lifestyle. I would give any preventative plan at least six months to a year, as the cells in your body will need to turn over and become healthier and less inflammatory.
- Do not combine any herbs with medications unless authorized by your naturopathic doctor.
- If you do not have access to a naturopathic doctor, please print out this article and discuss it with your MD before trying any new treatments for your asthma.
- Natural treatments such as diet, lifestyle, foods, vitamins and minerals typically can safely be combined with most asthma medications.
Keep in mind that asthma medicines, herbs, and nutritional products are not “curing” asthma, they are only opening airways, reducing inflammation, and reducing spasms of the bronchial smooth muscle. In order to facilitate the healing process for this disease we must improve the health of the patient, manage stress, reduce the total inflammatory load in the body, reduce the exposure to pollutants and pollens, and address the root cause of disease from a “whole person” perspective.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system that is characterized by wheezing, sudden difficulty in breathing, and chest tightness.
What Causes Asthma?
Most asthma is caused by allergic triggers or other irritants to the respiratory system such as pollution, aspirin, sulfites, additives in foods, food allergies, and inflammation. Some individuals are just pre-disposed to developing asthma, however as pollution levels rise, and as we add more and more nasty processed food garbage in our diets we are seeing a consistent rise in rates of asthma.
Diet for Asthma
- Anti-Inflammatory Diet. General treatment principles for the prevention of asthma attacks involve the reduction of inflammation. Often asthma sufferers are put on prednisone or other corticosteroids for severe or sub-optimally managed asthma. By adopting my "PGE-2 Diet" program and reducing the consumption of arachidonic acid found in animal products, you are altering your own physiology so that your body will naturally be primed to produce less inflammatory products such as prostaglandins that commonly trigger asthma attacks. Go vegan, or simply reduce the amount of fatty animal products you consume.
- Eliminate Dairy. Dairy produces phlegm. Most people with asthma have food allergies or intolerances. Try a food elimination diet. Dairy and wheat are the most common food irritants for those with asthma. Try alternatives to dairy for two weeks and see if your symptoms improve with elimination, or worsen with re-introduction.
- Decrease consumption of caffeine, salt, sugar, and tap water; as elimination of all were shown in the research to provide significant reduction in asthmatic symptoms.
- Antioxidants in general are helpful for the reduction of inflammatory free radical species, thus a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is very protective, and a great source of antioxidants! Antioxidants will help counteract inflammation created from breathing pollution.
- The best foods for asthma are: Alaskan salmon (for omega 3’s), green leafy veggies (for beta carotene and magnesium), cooked orange veggies such as yams, sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots (for beta carotene), brazil nuts (for selenium).
- Avoid sulfites and other food additives that are thought to trigger asthma. Eat a whole foods diet.
- Drink electrolytes! Frequent albuterol use lowers potassium levels. Bananas and green veggies are also great sources of potassium. Or you can drink two packets of Emergen-C daily to replete potassium and increase the antioxidant vitamin C which is shown to improve symptoms for those with exercise induced asthma.
Lifestyle Considerations for Asthma
- Lose weight. Weight loss has been shown to significantly improve the management of asthma symptoms.
- Avoid aspirin. Aspirin is a known trigger of asthma attacks in some patients.
- Avoid the use of air fresheners, artificial scents, perfumes, candles, etc. These irritants will surely trigger an asthma attack.
- Humidifiers are great sources of mold. If your humidifier is helpful be sure it is cleaned daily and filtered fresh water is always used.
- Reduce inhaled chlorine. Try a water filter for your shower head so that you are not inhaling chlorine and other pollutants in to your lungs while showering which is destructive to healthy lung tissue.
- Drink filtered water. Eliminating tap water was shown to reduce asthmatic symptoms.
- Make your home “green” by Detoxifying Your Home, Decreasing Home Pollutants, Eliminating Common Household Pollutants, and Utilizing Plants that Promote Clean Air.
- Add plenty of spider plants to your home to clean the air.
- Live in a home that is between 5-15 years old. Brand new homes off gas chemicals from the carpets, cabinets, walls, etc that will add an extra burden to the lungs and trigger pollutant asthma attacks. Older homes will be full of toxic molds that will be sure to trigger allergic asthma attacks.
- Consider moving to a less polluted, lower pollen count area.
- Exercise at 60% of your max heart rate to lose weight without triggering an attack. To determine your max heart rate= 220-age so if you are 20 your max heart rate is 200 and then you are to exercise at 60% to keep your body from triggering exercise induced asthma.
- Chinese Medicine associates the lungs with grief. Interestingly enough many of the patients I have worked with have developed asthma around the time of an acutely stressful life situation or after a loss of a loved one. Don’t hold back your tears, cry them out. When we hold back tears it makes our chest tight, very similar to the chest tightness that asthma sufferers experience.
- Learn to manage your stress. Work with a counselor to learn how to reframe stressful situations and think more positively.
- Breathe! Breathing exercises not only manage stress but they tonify the lungs and diaphragm.
How to Reduce Allergens for Asthma
- Wash bedding once weekly in allergen reducing laundry soap such as ALL “Free and Clear”.
- Dry Pillows once weekly in your dryer for 45 minutes to kill dust mites, and reduce allergens in the bedroom.
- Use a HEPA air filter.
- Eliminate Mold in your home and test your home for mold if you have not already.
- Wash hands and face and change your clothes for the day to remove pollen.
- Remove shoes when returning home and store them in the front closet, not the closet you keep your clothes in to reduce the amount of pollen and pollutants you are exposed to.
- Have pets groomed outside of the home on a regular basis.
- Treat seasonal allergies aggressively! Most asthma symptoms worsen due to seasonal allergies. Read my article on controlling seasonal allergies with alternative medicines. Mark the months that your asthma is worse (typically spring and early fall for most) and plan to aggressively treat your asthma with these preventative measures during that time.
- Hire a house cleaner. If at all possible do not do your own cleaning or lawn mowing. At least try to have someone else do the dusting and vacuuming. Leave the house while your home is being cleaned and your lawn is being mowed. Use natural non-toxic cleaners in your home. Offer to trade services such as cooking meals with a friend or neighbor if you have severe allergies and cannot afford these services. Tell your family members that “Dr. Nicole says I don’t have to clean or do yard work anymore”!
Vitamins for Asthma
- Beta carotene-Antioxidant shown to reduce the symptoms of exercise induced asthma at 64mg daily. Foods containing beta carotene are most orange and green veggies. Cook them to increase their beta carotene content. Carrots, squash, yams, sweet potatoes, and broccoli are my favorites.
- Vitamin C- Antioxidant shown to reduce asthma symptoms at 1000mg daily. Fruits and veggies are an excellent source, but for therapeutic purposes I would take this additionally as a supplement. A packet of Emergen-C in water twice daily is a delicious source of vitamin C and electrolytes.
- Lycopene- Antioxidant shown to reduce asthma symptoms at 30 mg daily. Cooked tomatoes and ketchup are the best sources of lycopene.
- Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) was shown to be helpful to some at 100-200 mg daily. Exceeding 200 mg daily may result in peripheral neuropathy, a numbness and tingling of the hands and feet.
Minerals for Asthma
- Magnesium-Shown to reduce asthmatic symptoms by oral and IV administration. Magnesium is a “spasmolytic” and needed for muscles to relax. Magnesium reduces spasms in bronchial smooth muscles. Most people are deficient in magnesium, dietary source is found in green vegetables and whole grains. Recommended dose is between 400mg to 8oomg daily. Diarrhea may result from higher doses.
- Selenium-A powerful antioxidant to combat pollution and inflammation related asthma attacks. Typical dose is 200 mcg daily or you can eat 2-3 brazil nuts daily.
- Potassium- is depleted by the overuse of albuterol inhalers. Fruits and veggies are a great source, as is Emergen-C.
Herbs for asthma:
- Do NOT ever mix herbs with prescription medicines without first checking with a licensed naturopathic physician!
- Butterbur-Shown to reduce asthmatic symptoms at a standardized dose of 50mg twice daily.
- Ginkgo- Also shown to reduce asthmatic symptoms.
- Other Researched Herbs I use for asthma: Tylophora, Boswellia, Grindelia robusta, Hyssopus officinalis, and Prunus serotina.
Other Natural Medicines for Asthma
- Fish oil- very anti-inflammatory, should see benefits after six months once all the cell membranes have all turned over. Not to be used by those with bleeding disorders, on anti-coagulant medications, or pregnant (vitamin A causes birth defects in excess of 10,000 IU daily).
- Quercetin -as a mast cell stabilizer to prevent the release of histamine in to the system for those with allergic asthma.
Sample Alternative Medicine Self Help Treatment Plan for Asthma
- ***Check with your physician before implementing***
- Whole foods, Anti-inflammatory diet
- Two week trial elimination of dairy with resultant challenge as described in the Food Allergy Elimination Diet.
- Fish oil 1-2 tablespoon daily (taken with food) for adults will also be helpful; children over three- usually 1/2 to 1 teaspoon daily, pregnant women should not use cod liver oil due to vitamin A content causing birth defects.
- Multivitamin containing 1000mg of vitamin C, 400mg of magnesium, lycopene 30mg, and beta carotene 64mg.
- Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) 50mg standardized extract twice daily, OR a high quality herbal formula from a reputable health food store containing the above listed herbal ingredients.
- Quercetin- for mast cell stabilization (inhibits the release of histamine) 1000 mg twice daily.
- Eat 1 cup of frozen blueberries daily. Blueberries are very anti-inflammatory and great enjoyed as dessert or in my smoothie recipe!
- Use a filter on your shower head, and drink filtered and bottled water free of chlorine and other chemical contaminants when at all possible.
- Deep Breathing Exercises to tonify the lungs and manage stress (always keep your rescue inhaler nearby when practicing these).
- Gentle exercise for weight loss (again always keep rescue inhaler on hand when exercising).
- Work on creating a green home.
- Monitor your Peak flows. Call your doctor if <70%. If <50% call 911 if you are by yourself, or go to the ER if not in acute distress and you have someone to drive you. Never drive yourself when in an acute asthma attack for the safety of you and others on the road.
Thank you for the question. Be sure to book an appointment with me to work on your asthma over on my SCHEDULE page so we can address yours at the root cause. I heavily rely on Naturopathic Medicine to treat my asthma as I explain in my "Coconut Carrot Asthma Cough Syrup" recipe I was living on during the summer fires in Arizona.
If you have asthma or chronic breathing issues I would be happy to help you feel confident again that you can always breathe clearly and not have to live in a state of emergency. I understand firsthand how scary it feels to not be able to breathe when I had my first asthma attack I was absolutely terrified. I am truly grateful to Naturopathic Medicine for helping my asthma and rarely need to use my inhaler with what I have learned from my own experience dealing with asthma.
Remember if you want to try Naturopathy for your child I can easily help them but they need to be open to making a few diet changes and taking supplements. If you tell kids about the option so they can choose it for themselves they are actually my most compliant and most successful asthma patients. But I would offer it as a choice. I never want parents to waste their money on something their child won't do. But many of my pediatric patients are my most compliant because it makes sense to kids that foods can make them feel better or worse. The best part about childhood asthma is that it responds very well to some of the basic antioxidants I have listed above. Especially exercise induced asthma. But please do not treat your child without the guidance of a Naturopathic expert such as myself.
Dr. Nicole Sundene, NMD
Dr. Sundene is a Naturopathic Doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is considered a Female Hormone Expert in Women's Health and Bioidentical Hormones. She specializes in Holistic Women's Health for Menopause, Thyroid, Hashimotos, PMS, Perimenopause, Autoimmune, Postpartum, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, Food Allergies, Digestion, Dermatology , Acne, Psoriasis, Eczema and Adrenal Hormonal Conditions. In 1999 she began working for a Hormone Doctor prior to starting Naturopathic Medical School. With over 22 years of experience in both Prescription and Natural women's health and hormones, she presents to women the best-integrated health solutions for their Chronic Disease. She has been an Herbalist for over 27 years and enjoys teaching women how to use herbs to balance their hormones, nutrition and optimize their health. Dr. Sundene relies on blood testing for her hormone metrics. The hormone testing is covered per the patient's insurance plan and conducted at certain points in the woman's menstrual cycle. To learn more about Hormone Testing for Women Visit: Bioidentical Hormones. Follow Dr. Sundene on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more tips on Women's Health, Female Hormones and Naturopathy!