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In the first week of May each year, many people celebrate World Asthma Day. The Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) began the tribute in 1998 and has continued to celebrate on the first Tuesday in May every year since. Each year, GINA chooses a theme and sends out resources to help educate healthcare providers, patients, and the public about asthma. [1] Generally, asthma care refers to pharmaceutical drugs, but are medications the best way to improve the quality of life for asthma patients? We disagree. It’s time for a different perspective on asthma. 

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic medical condition that affects the airways with recurring symptoms, such as airway inflammation, airflow obstruction, and bronchial tubes that easily spasm and constrict. [2] According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 25 million people in the United States have asthma. That statistic includes 5.1 million children (about twice the population of Mississippi). [3] 

During an asthma attack, the airways become so restricted that it’s like sucking in air through a straw rather than the garden hose size it’s supposed to be. When you take a break to breathe out, it may feel like suffocating.  It can be scary, and most asthma sufferers create an asthma action plan with their doctors to prepare for these situations.  

Symptoms of Asthma

Common symptoms of asthma may include the following: [4] 

  • Wheezing, especially when exhaling. 
  • Difficulty deep breathing 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chest tightness 
  • Coughing, especially at night or early morning. 

There’s a spectrum of asthma severity, so some people have minimal symptoms, while for others, it affects many aspects of daily life.  

How is Asthma Diagnosed?

A medical doctor usually diagnoses asthma based on symptoms and by ruling out other conditions like respiratory infections. Tests of lung function may include:  

  • Spirometry – The test determines how well air moves in and out of the lungs while breathing. It specifically looks at how narrow the bronchial tubes are by testing how deeply and quickly the person can exhale. 
  • Peak flow – This test uses a device to assess how hard someone can exhale. A lower reading indicates compromised lung function. 

Often, a bronchodilator drug like albuterol is used before and after testing to open the airways. If the bronchodilator helps, the patient likely has asthma. After confirming the condition, the doctor will create a treatment plan. [5] 

The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare

At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective, as the “fireman approach” versus the “carpenter approach.”

Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) to take care of people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out during a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish the “flames”: inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.

Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters: They assess the body’s current state with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are some common natural therapies that support the body in healing.

While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in supporting the healing process.

Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to Asthma

Medical treatment of asthma usually involves removing asthma triggers and using an inhaler when necessary. Some doctors may mention lifestyle changes or complementary therapies like breathing methods.  

Common Medications Used to Treat Asthma

Here are some frequently prescribed medications for long-term asthma control:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids: These drugs lower inflammation, relieving allergic symptoms. A classic example is prednisone used in an inhaler for allergic asthma. Other examples are budesonide (Pulmicort Flexhaler, Pulmicort Respules, or Rhinocort) and fluticasone propionate (Flovent HFA, Flovent Diskus, or Xhance.
  • Leukotriene modifiers: Leukotriene modifiers are anti-inflammatories often used for allergies and asthma. Examples include montelukast (Singulair) and zafirlukast (Accolate).
  • Combination inhalers: Combination inhalers contain a long-acting beta agonist medication alongside a corticosteroid. Examples include fluticasone-salmeterol (Advair HFA and Airduo Digihaler) and budesonide-formoterol (Symbicort).

 Those with severe asthma may require bronchodilator medications like albuterol in inhalers. These asthma medications suppress the inflammatory response and may help with symptoms; however, they all have short or long-term side effects. [6]

Common Asthma Triggers

When a person is susceptible to asthma, certain exposures can act as triggers for asthma flare-ups. Avoiding these irritants, when possible, may help manage asthma symptoms and keep them under control: 

  • Air pollution 
  • Dust 
  • Chemicals 
  • Dust mites 
  • Exercise 
  • Pollen 
  • Smoke 

Unfortunately, avoiding all potential asthma triggers is difficult, which is why so many people take medications. Asthma management by avoidance and medication is not ideal. So, if someone doesn’t want to rely on meds to feel better, they may try home remedies or seek out alternative medicine. 

What Causes Asthma? Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts

There is a genetic component, but the environment plays a significant role. The genetic aspect is a tendency to develop an IgE response to airborne allergens. However, just like anything else, genetics is only one component. The environment you subject yourself to, both inside and outside, is more important. One interesting phenomenon surrounding asthma and other allergy-related diseases is something called the “Atopic March.” This term refers to the progression of atopic dermatitis (eczema) in infants to allergic rhinitis (“allergies”) and asthma in later childhood. [7] 

Food allergies often accompany environmental allergies, so children often react to things like pollen, cats, dairy, tree nuts, etc., all at once. What are the chances that these have a common underlying cause? (Pretty good). Researchers have even found that early egg sensitivity was associated with allergies and asthma later in life. What’s the connection? An inflammatory response. [8]

Asthma is an inflammatory condition. [9] What causes inflammation leading to asthma? At The Wellness Way, we always go back to physical, biochemical, and emotional causes. We refer to them as trauma, toxins, and thoughts, the Three T’s. 

Trauma (Physical Stressors)

Traumas or physical stressors can be acute (like a car accident) or chronic (like being in a physically abusive relationship). Examples of traumas that could contribute to asthma include:

  • Poor posture
  • Physical abuse  
  • Sexual assault/rape  
  • Car accidents  
  • Severe illness or infection  
  • Having a baby 
  • Surgery  

…or other events that majorly impact your physical body. 

Scientists have found direct connections between asthma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect, witnessing violence, and losing a family member to suicide. The more ACEs, the greater the chance of developing a chronic illness like asthma. [10] The mother’s interpersonal trauma can also increase the likelihood of her child being diagnosed with asthma, particularly in baby boys. It’s not just trauma she experienced during pregnancy but throughout her life. Trauma changes DNA. [11] 

Toxin (Biochemical Stressors)

Biochemical stressors that may contribute to asthma include the following: 

  • Poor Indoor Air Quality: Off-gassing and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) used to sterilize materials in new cars, mattresses, and carpets can create chronic toxicity in the body.
  • Food allergies – eating allergenic foods is a biochemical stressor on the body.
  • Baby formula Giving a baby formula rather than breastfeeding can increase susceptibility to asthma later.
  • Antibiotics Receiving antibiotics before age six is proven to cause asthma. [12]
  • Sugar Too much sugar in the form of sweetened beverages before age two increases asthma traits. [13] 
  • Alcohol Consuming alcohol is another trigger for asthma. It may be the alcohol or the added sulfites (sulfur dioxide, sodium- and potassium metabisulfite, sodium and potassium bisulfite, sodium sulfite). [14] 
  • Commercial air fresheners Using air fresheners aggravates asthma. [15] 
  • Cleaning chemicals – Chemicals found in conventional Household Cleaning products are proven to either cause or trigger asthma. [16] 
  • Phthalates – These preservatives used in personal care products and food packaging aggravate lung function. [17] 
  • Herbicides – Exposure to weed killers (herbicides) before age 1 makes kids 4.5 times more likely to develop asthma before age 5. [18] 
  • Insecticides – Exposure to insecticides before age 1 makes kids 2.5 times more likely to develop asthma. [18] 
  • Chlorine – Swimming in chlorinated swimming pools has been shown to increase the risk of asthma. [19] 

All these toxic exposures, whether internal or external, set off an immune response in the body, which, depending on your sensitivity, can lead to asthma-like symptoms. 

Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)

Chronic mental and emotional stressors can also contribute to an asthma diagnosis as they stimulate white blood cells called mast cells, which release histamine and many other inflammatory chemicals. In these cases, the nervous system needs a reset, which begins with removing anything that may aggravate it. Emotional stress can come from the following. [20]

  • Relationship issues – Relationships can turn toxic, leading to chronic stress. Prolonged stress can lead to dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which can, in turn, affect the immune response. 
  • Financial stress – Financial struggles can lead to dysbiosis and chronic infections due to the long-term effects of stress and cortisol. 
  • Watching the news – The mainstream media rarely focuses on the positive. Regularly exposing yourself to bad news increases fear, worry, and overall stress. 
  • Feeling overwhelmed – Stress from significant life changes, like a recent marriage, a new baby, graduation, a divorce, or even moving to a new city, can lead to gut dysbiosis and an increased susceptibility to immune problems. 
  • Holding a grudge/pent-up anger – Holding a grudge creates stress in the body.  
  • A death in the family or a close friend – Grief is another form of stress that may create imbalances in the body. 
  • Military combat – PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) or PTSD from other causes can create a chronic sense of dis-ease in the body.  
  • Witnessing violence or a natural disaster – Being a witness to a mass shooting, murder, accident, or natural disaster is another potential cause of PTSD that may cause lasting imbalances.  

The cumulative effect of these traumas, toxins, and thoughts can create inflammation and increase the risk of dis-ease anywhere in the body. Chronic stress has a major negative impact on asthma. 

The Swiss Watch Approach to Asthma

If you’ve spent time with The Wellness Way, you will have heard of The Swiss Watch Principle. Like the gears inside a Swiss watch, everything in the body affects everything else. If you have inflammation in your airway (respiratory system), chances are good that you have it elsewhere in your body. It’s all connected through your nervous system, as in the image below: 

Research has confirmed that issues in these other systems can contribute to asthma – as the initial cause and as an aggravating factor. Let’s look at a few body systems and how they can impact the respiratory system, contributing to asthma. 

The Endocrine System and Asthma

Believe it or not, hormones can impact asthma. The endocrine system is made up of many different hormones that have a variety of effects on the body. Insulin is one hormone that researchers have connected to asthma. Insulin is needed to get glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells. When the body becomes resistant to insulin’s effects, it can lead to diabetes. 

A study published in 2016 found that elevated insulin due to insulin resistance changed lung structure and reduced function. The lungs also became overresponsive to airborne particles. Several studies have found a strong association between insulin resistance and asthma, whether or not the person is overweight. [21] 

Estrogens also affect asthmatic conditions. Estrogen receptors are found throughout the body and tend to push the immune system more toward an overactive (allergenic) response. That is likely why women are more affected by asthma than men. Environmental estrogens in household and personal care products (BPA and phthalates) also tend to worsen asthma. [22] 

These “xenoestrogens” specifically trigger mast cells in the immune system to release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals associated with asthma. These accumulate in body tissues (particularly the fat) and can transfer to babies through breastfeeding. This can set up infants for asthma in childhood or later in life. [23] 

Thyroid hormones also affect asthma by affecting contraction in the airway. A 2019 study published in the Journal of International Medicinal Research found that levels of free T3 were higher in those with respiratory failure. While poor oxygen levels from asthma may actually be causing the high T3, the important thing to note is that the respiratory system and hormonal system do interact. It’s all a Swiss Watch. [24] 

The Digestive System and Asthma

You may have heard of the gut-brain axis or the gut-brain connection. Science has found a direct link between the gut and the brain. But have you heard of the gut-lung axis? It turns out that the gut microbiome has a major impact on lung health and can influence the development of asthma. The gut microbiome makes up most of your immune system. If there’s dysbiosis, it can impact how the immune system responds to the surrounding environment. [25] 

Your ability to absorb nutrients is also important when it comes to asthma. A 2021 study published in the journal Nutrients found that deficiencies and overloads in certain minerals, like selenium, zinc, manganese, and others caused increased inflammation and/or poor outcomes in asthmatics. Certain minerals also caused problems when consumed in excess. [26] 

The Skeletal System and Asthma

The skeletal system, particularly the spine and rib cage, can also affect asthma. After all, the rib cage surrounds the lungs, and the spine protects the central nervous system, determining nerve flow to all our different organs and tissues, including the lungs. A study of children with mild to moderate asthma found that chiropractic adjustments over three months improved the quality of life in the patients and decreased the severity of their asthma. [27] 

The Immune System and Asthma

The immune system is very much connected to the digestive system, as the gut contains 70 to 80 percent of the immune system. [28] If what we eat causes an immune response in the gut, the inflammation tends to translate to other parts of the body, particularly those areas where we have a genetic weakness. That’s how food allergies can cause joint pain or headaches. 

Our gut barrier determines when nutrients from the food we eat enter the bloodstream. If food particles enter the bloodstream before being broken down, the immune system sees them as toxins or invaders – something that should not be there. It responds by sending out the white blood cells to eat up the pathogens and clean things up. Then it sends out inflammatory chemicals, which brings about healing. 

Additionally, exposure to microorganisms early on in life is protective against asthma. Research has found kids who grow up on farms have lower rates of asthma, likely because they are exposed to so many kinds of bacteria, and their immune systems had to adapt. Kids who grew up drinking raw milk from the farm specifically had lower rates of allergies and asthma. [29] As mentioned, food allergies and asthma often go together. It’s the over-reactivity of the immune system that underlies both conditions.  

The Wellness Way Approach to Asthma

Start by thinking and acting differently when it comes to asthma. Could food or environmental factors be contributing to your symptoms? 

Important Tests For Assessing Your Lungs and Immune Health

The best way to see what’s contributing to asthma symptoms is to test. Food allergies are a common contributing cause of asthma –especially cow’s milk.  

The recommended testing will depend on your Wellness Way practitioner and which tests he or she considers most important based on your symptoms and health history. If you have a known chemical exposure or infection, additional testing may be added.   

Dietary Changes For Those With Inflammation and Asthma

  • No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation.  
  • No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated, as they are less immune-stimulating. [30] 
  • Gluten-free, overall grain-free – Gluten aggravates the gut lining, causing inflammation and a release of histamine, which can aggravate asthma. [31] 
  • Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory. [32] 
  • Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods with plenty of antioxidants. 
  • Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program, based on your food allergy test results. Avoiding your food allergens is critical for lowering inflammation and histamine.  
  • Include nutrient-dense foods: Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens add vital nutrients. 

In The Wellness Way network of clinics, dairy is one of the most common allergies that come up on patient tests (both IgE allergies and IgG allergies). [33] Cow’s milk has long been associated with an increase in mucus production and breathing conditions, including asthma. However, you may switch to goat milk only to find that you have an unknown allergy to goat milk. Believe it or not, for some people, the source of their inflammation is such innocent-looking foods as lettuce, bananas, or black pepper. 

Research shows that cow’s milk rich in A1 beta-casein (like from Holsteins) stimulates mucus production in both the gut and respiratory tract if the tissue is already actively inflamed. Eliminating dairy or switching to A2-rich milk, like goat milk, may improve respiratory health. [34] 

Supplements For Supporting Gut Health + Balancing The Immune Response

Each person is different, but supplements often used at The Wellness Way for those struggling with asthma and breathing difficulties include the following: 

  • Osha Root – This herb was traditionally used for lung conditions like pneumonia and difficulty breathing. It lowers inflammation and reduces spasms. [35
  • Nettle Leaf – Nettle reduces the release of inflammatory messenger chemicals from mast cells, which may lessen allergic symptoms. [36] 
  • Rehmannia – “Nature’s corticosteroid”? Rehmannia is incredibly supportive of a balanced immune response. It improves the gut bacterial balance and strengthens the gut lining. [37] 
  • Turmeric – Curcumin, the main active constituent in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties that may help lower the allergenic response. [38] 
  • White Peony – This herb has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for asthma. Research has found it works as a mast cell stabilizer, inhibiting histamine release. [39] 
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C has many health benefits but may especially help asthma by lowering the allergic response. Low vitamin C is associated with lung dysfunction, and asthma patients tend to have lower vitamin C levels compared to healthy controls. [40] 
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is crucial to normal immune function, and supplementation may reduce asthma severity. [41] 
  • Magnesium – Magnesium helps calm bronchial muscle spasms and may improve lung function and asthma symptoms. [42] 
  • Omega-3s – Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can help lower inflammation and asthma symptoms. [43] 

Lifestyle Changes for Supporting Gut Health + Balancing The Immune Response

  • Upgrade your products Switch out your household and personal care products for healthier versions to avoid asthma triggers. 
  • Consider trying breathing exercises – Certain breathing techniques, like Buteyko breathing or the Papworth method, may help improve conditions. The American Lung Association offers some free breathing videos on its website. [44] 
  • Acupuncture – Acupuncture may be helpful for asthma in some people. [45] 
  • Exercise  Yes, there is a such thing as exercise-induced asthma, but there are ways to still get physical activity. Exercise can help reduce inflammation and blood pressure and improve circulation when done consistently over time. Just be sure to follow medical advice for exercising with asthma. [46] 

In general, focus on lowering toxic and inflammation-causing ingredients in your life. The lower the toxic burden, the easier it is for the body to heal. 

Addressing Asthma, The Wellness Way 

At The Wellness Way, we support whole-body wellness, rather than just looking at the airway. Asthma has many contributing factors, and no two people are alike. That’s why we start with an in-depth consultation, where we listen to your story – what you’ve tried, what worked, what didn’t work, and where you’d like to go with your health. Next, we’ll recommend testing that’s best suited to you, based on what you’ve shared with us.  From there, we’ll work with you to create a health restoration plan and connect you with a clinician who can best help you on your journey back to a happy, healthy airway and balanced, vibrant health. 

References

  1. 2023 World Asthma Day – Global Initiative for Asthma – GINA (ginasthma.org) 
  2. Section 2, Definition, Pathophysiology and Pathogenesis of Asthma, and Natural History of Asthma – Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov) 
  3. Most Recent National Asthma Data | CDC 
  4. Asthma: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org) 
  5. Asthma – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic 
  6. Asthma – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic 
  7. The Atopic March: Progression from Atopic Dermatitis to Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma – PMC (nih.gov) 
  8. Food allergies and asthma – PMC (nih.gov) 
  9. Chronic inflammation and asthma – PMC (nih.gov) 
  10. Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC 
  11. Impact of maternal lifetime interpersonal trauma on children’s asthma: Mediation through maternal active asthma during pregnancy – PMC (nih.gov) 
  12. Antibiotic exposure by 6 months and asthma and allergy at 6 years: Findings in a cohort of 1,401 US children – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  13. Pathways in the association between sugar sweetened beverages and child asthma traits in the 2nd year of life: Findings from the BRISA cohort – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  14. Alcoholic drinks: important triggers for asthma – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  15. Fragranced consumer products: effects on asthmatics – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  16. EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning | Household Cleaner Ratings and Ingredients  
  17. Exposure to phthalates aggravates pulmonary function and airway inflammation in asthmatic children – PMC (nih.gov) 
  18. Early-life environmental risk factors for asthma: findings from the Children’s Health Study. – PMC (nih.gov) 
  19. Outdoor swimming pools and the risks of asthma and allergies during adolescence | European Respiratory Society (ersjournals.com) 
  20. Onset of asthma during intense mourning – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  21. Hyperinsulinemia adversely affects lung structure and function – PMC (nih.gov) 
  22. Estrogen effects in allergy and asthma – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  23. Environmental Estrogens Induce Mast Cell Degranulation and Enhance IgE-Mediated Release of Allergic Mediators – PMC (nih.gov) 
  24. Impact of thyroid hormones on asthma in older adults – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  25. The Role of the Microbiome in Asthma: The Gut⁻Lung Axis – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  26. Mineral Micronutrients in Asthma – PMC (nih.gov) 
  27. Chronic pediatric asthma and chiropractic spinal manipulation: a prospective clinical series and randomized clinical pilot study – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  28. The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  29. Asthma epidemiology and risk factors – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  30. Goat milk is less immunogenic than cow milk in a murine model of atopy – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  31. Intestinal Mucosal Mast Cells: Key Modulators of Barrier Function and Homeostasis – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  32. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  33. Molecular Approaches for Diagnosis, Therapy and Prevention of Cow’s Milk Allergy – PMC (nih.gov) 
  34. Does milk increase mucus production? – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  35. Effects of Ligusticum porteri (Osha) Root Extract on Human Promyelocytic Leukemia Cells – PMC (nih.gov) 
  36. In Vivo Pharmacological Testing of Herbal Drugs for Anti-Allergic and Anti-Asthmatic Properties – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  37. Rehmannia glutinosa polysaccharides attenuates colitis via reshaping gut microbiota and short-chain fatty acid production – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  38. Therapeutic potency of curcumin for allergic diseases: A focus on immunomodulatory actions – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  39. Total glucosides of peony improve ovalbumin-induced allergic asthma by inhibiting mast cell degranulation – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  40. Vitamin C supplementation for asthma – PMC (nih.gov) 
  41. Vitamin D supplementation in children may prevent asthma exacerbation triggered by acute respiratory infection – Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (jacionline.org) 
  42. Effect of oral magnesium supplementation on measures of airway resistance and subjective assessment of asthma control and quality of life in men and women with mild to moderate asthma: a randomized placebo controlled trial – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  43. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  44. Breathing Exercises | American Lung Association 
  45. TMT-based quantitative proteomics reveals suppression of SLC3A2 and ATP1A3 expression contributes to the inhibitory role of acupuncture on airway inflammation in an OVA-induced mouse asthma model – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  46. Regular exercise improves asthma control in adults: A randomized controlled trial – PubMed (nih.gov) 

 

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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