Q:My seven year old son has had asthma since he was two. We have tried all the dietary approaches suggested in your pages, but he hasn't significantly improved. Do you have any other therapies with proven success? P C, Stamford, Connecticut........
A:We spoke with the American nutritional pioneer Dr Jonathan Wright in Kent, Washington, who has had a great deal of success with a novel treatment.
Dr Wright finds that the vast majority of cases of childhood asthma are of a "gastrointestinal origin" that is, children with asthma tend to have poor stomach acid. In one study of 200 children in 1931, four out of five were found to have low stomach acid. Giving the children hydrochloric acid reduced the severity and number of asthmatic episodes.
Dr Wright first tests stomach acid with radiotelemetry (the so called Heidelberg capsule, where a capsule containing a tiny radiotransmitter is swallowed by the patient and then tracked by a computer.
In Britain, the test can be performed by Biolab in London: 0171 636 5959). Dr Wright usually recommends that children take betaine hydrochloride, in capsules; for children not old enough to chew a capsule, he has the mother give pickles, unsweetened lemonade or anything else sour to stimulate acid production.
Although food allergy often causes this stomach acid problem, Dr Wright finds that one of the big culprits is cow's milk. In 1979, one researcher called Kokkonen, who examined stomach acid in children before and after giving them milk, discovered that even a single dose of cow's milk destroyed the stomach lining in sensitive children. Afterward, the gastric acid of these children was one third that of normal group. Kokkonen also found that the children's stomachs took up to six months to recover from this one devastating dose and that with completely avoiding all dairy products and any other allergens (Eur J Pediatrics, 1979; 132: 1).
This allergic "gastritis" may also cause low production of pepsin and possible failure of "intrinsic factor", which helps to digest B12 and other nutrients, and a leaky gut, which absorbs larger than normal molecules of food, increasing allergies and also impairing the absorption of nutrients.
In Dr Wright's experience, this situation almost invariably develops from bottlefeeding or introducing cow's milk or one of more of the other big allergens wheat, soy, egg, orange and corn too soon in a child's diet.
Lack of intrinsic factor in a stomach means that a child doesn't absorb B12 well, contributing to wheezing.
In 1957, one researcher discovered that five out of six children given high doses of B12 via an intramuscular jab had "marked or moderate" improvement of their wheezing. In Dr Wright's experience, higher doses and younger age offer a greater chance of success, although even his 60 and 70 year old patients have 20 per cent improvement.
He teaches parents to administer daily intramuscular shots of B12 over 10 days in the following doses : 1000 mcg for 2 to 3 year olds; 2000 mcg for children up to adolescence; 3000 mcg for teens.
Beside B12, restoring stomach acid and eliminating allergies, Dr Wright gives his patients magnesium supplements, which is long known to reduce the frequency and severity of muscle spasms of any sorts, including bronchospasms, plus B6, which helps absorption of magnesium.
For more information about other treatments and nutritional suggestions for asthma, see Alternatives, p 12.