Asthma, as one of many common childhood conditions, is a subject that I am exceptionally passionate about. My husband was diagnosed with asthma as a child and spent many years regularly taking preventative inhalers and the occasional use of emergency inhalers (Ventolin). The constant, regular exposure to the preservatives and other chemicals in these doing untold damage to his body, even the medical literature lists possible side effects of long term use as including loss of bone density, cataracts, glaucoma and slowed growth in children.
In this article we will take a quick look at what asthma is, what triggers an attack and some of the natural options for the treatment and management of asthma in young children. Children represent a group most at risk for the development of asthma and if affected, most vulnerable to the toxic buildup of pharmaceutical medicines.
What Exactly is Asthma and What Triggers an Attack?
Asthma is a type of Respiratory System Ailment that is characterised by spasms of the Bronchial Tubes, Coughing and excessive excretion of a viscous Mucous in the Lungs that can lead to difficult breathing. Asthma is considered to be an inflammatory condition. It has been suggested that 4% of the population of western nations suffer from Asthma and it’s prevalence is increasing. While watching a child suffering through an asthma attack is a scary experience, the long term affects of chronic asthma can be just as scary, it has been suggested that chronic asthma can lead to increased risk of emphysema and other COPDs in later life.
As anyone that has had experience with asthma, either first hand or through a child will tell you the triggers for asthma attacks are many and varied. I’m sure most people will be aware of the dangers that (mono sodium glutamate) MSG poses to asthmatics, but there are many other food additives that cause problems. Others potential food additive triggers include:
- Aspartame – an artificial sweetener found in many soft drinks and diet foods;
- Calcium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate – commonly used as preservatives. Usually listed as 213 and 212;
- Virtually all the Sulfite family – commonly used as preservatives and antioxidants and frequently found in dried fruit. I know we regularly talk about the health benefits of antioxidants, but sulfities aren’t added to food for your health!
- Tartrazine – a particularly nasty colouring agent derived from coal tar;
For most asthmatics the only real safe course when choosing foods is to avoid any processed or manufactured food. A choice, incidentally, that not only reduces asthma symptoms but improves overall health. It is particularly interesting to note that many of these same food preservatives and chemicals have also been linked with ADHD, another common childhood condition.
Triggers aren’t just food based however and environmental triggers also exist. Dust, moulds, pollen or animal dander, smoke, fumes and cold or damp weather have all been linked with increased risk of asthmatic attack.
Natural Options For Asthma Treatment
The key to treating asthma naturally lies in recognising the inflammatory and immune reactions involved. Reducing inflammation and modulating immune response are two areas where natural and alternative medicine offers powerful options with no dangerous side affects.
Omega 3 EFA’s – Fish Don’t Have Breathing Problems
Reducing the intake of Omega 6 Fatty Acids and increasing the intake of Omega 3 fats is particularly important in any inflammatory condition and asthma is no exception. An Australian study of 335 children found that an increased intake of Omega 3 fatty acids and a reduction in Omega 6 fatty acids was an effective tool in protecting children from asthma (Oddy, W. H., et al).
Good sources of Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids include oily fish, olive oil and many nuts and seeds. While fish and seafood will not typically be the preferred diet of many young children all research showing beneficial effects of Omega 3’s has found the benefits to come from EPA. While EPA is naturally found in the oil extracted from fish it is not present in plant and vegetable based sources which contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA). While our body can convert ALA to EPA this conversion process is lossy and generally less than 25% of the available ALA is converted to EPA (Burdge, G.C., et. al.). This conversion process also requires a number of other nutritional factors, including Zinc. Zinc, which we will mention later, is a common deficiency amongst asthmatic children.
We regularly use supplementation with a high strength liquid fish oil in our clinic with good effect. Using a liquid ensures high levels of the active ingredient, EPA, without the need to consume large numbers of tablets each day making it far easier for children. We have found that children typically respond quickly to fish oil supplementation not just for asthma, but also for eczema and skin conditions.
Resveratrol & Selenium – More Than Just Healthy Ageing
Usually when we talk about Resveratrol and Selenium the first thing many people think of is healthy ageing and life extension. Resveratrol particularly, has a well established reputation for reducing the impact and signs of ageing, making it the last thing that children should need! However, Resveratrol and Selenium have both proven to be beneficial as much more than the metaphorical fountain of youth, one of these is the treatment and management of asthma.
One recent study from Korea investigated the affects of Resveratrol on asthmatic mice. It was found that it had a similar affect in reducing both the airway spasm and mucus production as the pharmaceutical glucocorticoids that are generally prescribed for asthma (Lee, M., et al). Resveratrol, obviously has the added benefit of not causing ongoing damage in the body that pharmaceutical glucocorticoids typically have.
We have written previously that contrary to popular belief red wine is not the best source of therapeutic grade resveratrol and I’m sure that most of us would agree plying children with a couple of glasses of red wine per day is rather counter productive. Therapeutic grade resveratrol supplementation can easily be obtained from our Naturopath.
While the studies looking at Resveratrol and asthma may be quite recent, Selenium’s beneficial affect on asthma has been known about for some time. It is not surprising however, that given the current controversial attitude towards selenium, very few know about this. In one of several studies that exist in the medical literature, supplementation with 100ug of sodium selenite for 14 weeks saw significant improvement in the signs and symptoms of asthma (Hasselmark, L., et al).
We avoid the form of Selenium (Sodium Selenite) used in this study in our clinic as it is an inorganic selenium and one of the contributors to Selenium’s tarnished reputation. The form of supplemental Selenium we generally use is an organic selenium, Selenomethionine that is well absorbed across the intestinal wall and non-toxic.
While one generally doesn’t think of children as engaging in activities that would expose them to high levels of toxins it is important to remember that many environmental toxins are capable of accumulating in the feotus during pregnancy. Vaccinations are another particularly common source of childhood toxins and we frequently find children affected by heavy metals.
Astragalus & Boswelia – Using Herbs to Clear the Air
Astragalus and Boswelia make regular appearances as herbs that modulate and balance the immune system. Modulating and balancing the immune reaction occurring in the lungs is not so different to when it occurs in the joints or the digestive system. In fact, Astragalus has been shown as effective as steroids in decreasing inflammation and reducing mucous secretion (Shen, H. H., et al) in the lungs of mice.
It is not surprising that tradition has the three wise men of the Bible giving Jesus Frankincense (Boswelia). We have found Boswelia to be particularly effective in managing immune reactions and wheezing without the detrimental effects that corticosteroids have on young bodies. In one six week study of 80 persons with mild asthma taking 300mg of Boswelia 3 times per day reduced frequency of attacks and wheezing (Gupta, I., et al).
The Mother’s Diet
It is worth briefly touching on the mother’s diet prior to conception and during pregnancy. The focus on the maternal nutritional status during pregnancy is becoming more and more important. While most people are aware of the importance of ensuring sufficient levels of Omega 3 essential fatty acids during pregnancy, there are other equally important nutrients.
Low maternal intakes of vitamin E and zinc during pregnancy have both been associated with greater risk of childhood asthma (Devereux, G., et al). We regularly find that during Zinc testing both mother and child are severely zinc deficient where allergies, both respiratory and skin, are involved. Prior to conception and during pregnancy it is vitally important to consult with our Naturopath to ensure an optimum diet for the developing child’s health as what the mother eats is the only source of raw materials for the child’s development as well.
Many toxins also have the ability to cross the placenta and accumulate to toxic levels in the developing child. Most recently exposure to bisphenol A during pregnancy has been shown to increase the risk of development of asthma (Midoro-Horiuti, T., et al). This is not an isolated example, and even seemingly innocent sounding toxins, such as over the counter pain killers ie. Paracetamol have been positively associated with asthma and wheezing in children (Shaheen, S. O., et al).
Would You Like to Know More?
Natural and alternative medicine has many powerful and safe options for combatting childhood allergies and other conditions. If you are considering having children, or have a child affected by childhood allergies, contact our Naturopath today to see how we can help.
- Burdge, G.C., et. al.. ‘Conversion of a-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acids in young women.’ British Journal of Nutrition 88(4) (2002):411-421
- Devereux, G., et al. ‘Low maternal vitamin E intake during pregnancy is associated with asthma in 5 year old children.’ American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine 174.5 (2006):499-507
- Gupta, I., et al. ‘Effects of Boswelia serrata gum resin in patients with bronchiol asthma: results of double-blind, placebo controlled, 6 week clinical study.’ European Journal of Medical Research 3 (1998):511-514
- Hasselmark, L., et al. ‘Selenium supplementation in intrinsic asthma.’ Allergy 48 (1993):30-36
- Lee, M., et al. ‘Anti-inflammatory and anti-asthmatic effects of resveratrol, a polyphenolic stilbene, in a mouse model of allergic asthma.’ Int Immunopharmacol (2009):
- Midoro-Horiuti, T., et al. ‘Maternal bisphenol a exposure promotes the development of experimental asthma in mouse pups.’ Environmental Health Perspective 118.2 (2010):273-277
- Oddy, W. H., et al. ‘Ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and childhood asthma.’ Journal of Asthma 41(3) (2004):319-326
- Shaheen, S. O., et al. ‘Prenatal paracetamol exposure and risk of asthma and elevated immunoglobulin E in childhood.’ Clin Exp Allergy 35.1 (2005):18-25
- Shen, H. H., et al. ‘Astragalus Membranceus prevents airway hyperactivity in mice related to Th2 response inhibition.’ Journal of Ethnopharmacoloy 116(2) (2008):363-369