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7 natural remedies for asthma

MagazineJanuary 2015 (Vol. 25 Issue 10)7 natural remedies for asthma

It seems like every few months there's another 'safety alert' for an asthma drug-worrying news if you're one of the 5

It seems like every few months there's another 'safety alert' for an asthma drug-worrying news if you're one of the 5.4 million people in the UK receiving treatment for asthma, which usually means a combination of inhaled and oral drugs. The latest is for the injected antibody drug Xolair (omalizumab), currently recommended as an addon therapy for anyone over the age of six with severe allergic asthma not adequately controlled by inhaled corticosteroids.1 Following a review of a five-yearsafety study, US drugs watchdog the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it is updating thedrug's label to include information about an increased risk of serious side-effects involving the heart and brain. The FDA review revealed a slightly higher rate of heart
and brain blood-vessel problems in patients treated with Xolair compared with patients not taking Xolair that included transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) or 'mini strokes', heart attacks, sudden unexpected chest pain, high blood pressure in arteries in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), and blood clots in the lungs and veins. And almost as an aside, the FDA also said it was adding
a warning about a potentially increased risk of cancer with Xolair, as several studies had identified slightly igher rates of various cancers in patients treated with Xolair compared with non-Xolairtreated patients.2 These updates have come just a few years after the 'wonder drug' was slapped with a black-box warning alerting patients to the risk of anaphylaxis-a
severe, life-threatening, allergic reaction-which can happen after the first dose of Xolair or even a year after regular treatment. According to the manufacturer's own trials, about one
in 1,000 patients (0.1 per cent) suffers anaphylaxis with Xolair. Other potential problems associated with the drug include parasitic infections, adrenal insufficiency and Churg-Strauss syndrome, an inflammatory condition that affects blood vessels (systemic necrotizing vasculitis) as well as the lungs, nerves and skin-and, ironically, can also lead to severe asthma.3
Sadly, Xolair isn't the only asthma drug that's cause for concern. According to a major FDA review published in 2011, use of the popular long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs) can actually make asthma worse, increasing the risk of serious asthma-related adverse events, including hospitalizations and death. Children have the greatest risk; those aged four to 11 taking a LABA are nearly
70 per cent more likely to end up in hospital with an asthma attack than those not taking a LABA.4 But the risk went away if a LABA was taken alongside an inhaled corticosteroid-a finding supported by more recent research5-which is why the current guidelines now stipulate that LABAs must not be used without a long-term asthma-control medication, such as an inhaled corticosteroid. Yet there is evidence, including a review of 19 trials involving nearly 34,000 asthma patients, suggesting that taking a steroid along with a LABA still does not entirely eliminate the risk.6

Even inhaled steroids on their own, the mainstay of asthma treatment, are not as safe as the drug companies would have us believe. Decreased bone density, stunted growth, cataracts and glaucoma are just some of the known side-effects.7The good news is that a variety of non-drug treatments are showing great promise for asthma and allowing many patients to reduce their dependence on medication or even come off their drugs completely. Although it's not wise to try this yourself without supervision-suddenly stopping any medication can be dangerous-with the help of a qualified medical practitioner, you may be able to better control your asthma with one or more of the following safe and effective natural treatments.1 Acupuncture
This traditional Chinese technique has been used for thousands of years tocorrect the underlying imbalances that cause asthma symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing,
and a recent review has confirmed its effectiveness.

The use of acupuncture and moxibustion-the application of eat as a result of burning a small bundle of tightly bound herbs, or moxa, on
targeted acupoints-was significantlymore effective than a control technique in a pooled analysis of 22 published trials involving more than 3,000 people with asthma.8 2 Yoga
A discipline that involves both breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, yoga can help asthma by improving lung function and quality of life as well as reducing the amount of medication needed to control symptoms. It's even been found to bring about measurable biochemical changes in the body, such as increased levels of haemoglobin and antioxidant superoxide dismutase, which may explain its beneficial effects.9 3 Buteyko breathing Now a well-established complementary therapy for asthma, this technique is based on the theory that certain
disorders, including asthma, are caused by overbreathing, or hyperventilation, which reduces carbon-dioxide levels in the blood and, as a consequence, reduces blood flow to the brain. At the heart of the Buteyko method is a series of reduced-breathing exercises that focus on nasal breathing, breathholding and relaxation-all of which can especially benefit asthma patients,
advocates say. Buteyko practitioner Christopher Drake, of Learn Buteyko UK (www.learnbuteyko.co.uk), claims that around a third of his asthma patients are completely cured of their symptoms, while another third enjoysvast improvement. Controlled studies show that the Buteyko method can help sufferers to significantly slash their use of asthma drugs and enjoy a better quality of life.10 4 Diet The right diet, according to the evidence, can help with asthma management. Here are some general pointers. Investigate food allergies.

Asthma solely induced by food is rare, but certain foods may trigger symptoms and make asthma worse.11 Consider seeing an allergy specialist to find out if there are any particular foods or additives worth avoiding.
Go vegan. A vegan diet followed for a year in conjunction with specific dietary changes, such as avoiding caffeine, sugar, salt and chlorinated tap water while including a variety of herbs
and supplements, led to significant improvement in a group of asthma sufferers.12 Although it's not clear to what extent the vegan element of the programme helped, in theory the diet could have lowered levels of arachidonic acid, found in animal products and implicated in asthma.13Up your antioxidants. Oxidative stress appears to be involved in asthma, so eating plenty of antioxidants-found in abundance in fresh fruit and vegetables-may help. In a trial of 137 asthma sufferers, those eating a highantioxidant diet (five servings of veg and two servings of fruit daily) improved more than those on a low-antioxidant diet.14 5 Supplements Several supplements may be useful for asthmatics, especially antioxidant vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C can reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks in adults. It might also be of benefit for people with exercise-induced asthma.15 Suggested dosage: 1-1.5 g/day Selenium can improve asthma symptoms, according to one small trial.Taking a form called 'sodium selenite' for about three months resulted in clinical improvements in six out of 11 patients compared with only one out of 10 patients taking a placebo.16 Suggested dosage: 100 mcg/day Magnesium supplements alleviated asthma symptoms and boosted quality of life in one trial.17
Suggested dosage: 170 mg twice daily Fish oil, a well-known antiinflammatory, can improve asthma symptoms in children, and combining it with antioxidants vitamin C and zinc may be even better.18 Suggested dosage: 300 mg/day (providing 84mg of EPA and 36 mg of DHA) Vitamin D deficiency has recently been linked to asthma,19 so supplementing with the 'sunshine vitamin' may be of benefit. In a rat study of asthma (which may not apply to humans), vitamin D injections improved the efficacy of steroids and curbed their side-effects.20 Suggested dosage: 1,000-4,000 IU/day depending on age and individual needs 6 Herbs In an uncontrolled trial of children with severe asthma given Amrita Bindu, an Ayurvedic salt-spice herbal preparation,
most were able to stop their asthma medications and no longer suffered any asthma attacks after three months.21 Other helpful herbs include ivy-leaf extract, powdered Picrorhiza root and
Ginkgo leaf tincture. For best results, consult a qualified medical practitioner. Suggested dosage: 250-500 mg twice daily of Amrita Bindu 7 Biofeedback Biofeedback techniques, which use special devices to feed back information related to specific internal physiological states, are increasingly being used for asthma. One study found that biofeedback used alongside steroids markedly improved lung function and asthma severity compared with steroids and sham biofeedback and steroids alone (control). Patients using biofeedback also needed less medication.22

References
1 Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2014; 1: CD003559
2 www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm414911.htm
3 N Engl J Med, 2006; 355: 1281-2
4 Pediatrics, 2011; 128: e1147-54
5 Respir Res, 2014; 15: 83
6 Ann Intern Med, 2006; 144: 904-12
7 Lancet Respir Med, 2014; 2: 487-96; Arch Intern Med,
1999; 159: 941-55
8 Zhongguo Zhen Jiu, 2010; 30: 787-92
9 Int J Yoga, 2014; 7: 17-21
10 N Z Med J, 2003; 116: U710; Respir Med, 2008; 102:
726-32; Med J Aust, 1998; 169: 575-8
11 Paediatr Drugs, 2007; 9: 157-63
12 J Asthma, 1985; 22: 45-55
13 Indian J Allergy Asthma Immunol, 2014; 28: 61-2
14 Am J Clin Nutr, 2012; 96: 534-43
15 Trop Geogr Med, 1980; 32: 132-7; Respir Med, 2007;
101: 1770-8
16 Allergy, 1993; 48: 30-6
17 J Asthma, 2010; 47: 83-92
18 Eur Respir J, 2000; 16: 861-5; Acta Paediatr, 2009; 98:
737-42
19 J Family Community Med, 2014; 21: 154-61
20 Can J Physiol Pharmacol, 2014: 1-9; doi: 10.1139/cjpp-
2014-0323
21 J Ethnopharmacol, 2004; 90: 105-14
22 Chest, 2004; 126: 352-61


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