Asthma is an abnormal, chronic (or episodic) inflammation of the airways tissue, the bronchial epithelium (skin). This abnormal inflammation causes muscle spasm (constriction) of the airways making it difficult to breathe, especially to breathe out.  It should be stated that asthma is a specific diagnosis, it has to do with a limited capacity to breathe out; it cannot be diagnosed simply because there might be a little wheeziness, or excess mucus.

Causes, as Distinct from Triggers

Distinction must be made between having asthma attacks, and being asthmatic.   Some 'triggers' (see below1) will cause attack symptoms in the asthmatic, but not in the non-asthmatic person.    The real question ought to be, what creates the characteristic inflammation, the susceptible internal environment in some individuals in the first place?  

Why is it that a hundred people can all be exposed to the same 'triggers' and only some, namely the 'asthmatics', show a disordered response?   

There is the idea that chronic exposure to these triggers makes an otherwise healthy individual into an asthmatic2. I think this commonly held notion is wrong, it is an assumptive hypothesis which has unthinkingly been accepted into medical ethos.  Evidence of this is in the fact that medical orthodoxy does not try to “cure” asthma;  naturopathic treatment does try to do just that.

The Cause of Asthma

Quite simply, asthma is caused when acidity levels become too high in the lungs.  Hence any cure will be aimed at alkalinising the bronchial tree.  As to how this happens in the first place, is not well known.  One theory is poor dietary choices.

The Role of Diet

See where the Asthma Foundation is running TV ads, saying that "less than 5% of asthma is food-related"?  What an awful joke on the public and its trusting membership this little bit of ignorance (or deception) is.  Studies from as early as 1985 have shown a 92 per cent improvement in one year of asthma attacks when placed on vegetarian diets; (Lindahl, O. et al.  Journal of Asthma, 1985, 22, pp45-55). Now even a 10-15% improvement would have been significant. In our clinic we find that about 70 - 75% of asthma is definitely food related, and asthma can reverse when foods are properly addressed. (possible connection is the vagus nerve: acidic irritation and inflammation of the colon caused by food allergy / hypersensitivity causes reflex irritation and inflammation (acidity) of the bronchial mucosa3. And in more than 90% of cases, poor food choices aggravate asthma (acid-forming foods), and good food choices (alkalinising foods) will alleviate it.  So why are they advertising this nonsense? ...  Oh well, there can only be an Asthma Foundation (and the jobs which go with it) if there is continued asthma. Can't look in the direction of, no, no!  Keep telling people long enough "there is no cure" and sooner or later it is commonly accepted and believed.

Whilst asthma can onset at any time of life, most commonly there is childhood asthma, and there is also mature onset asthma.

Childhood asthma

There is a lot of evidence that poor weaning practice, infant and early childhood diets based on animal products, eg cow’s milk formula, meats, dairy products, chicken, and the preparation of which often involves heating fats and oils, and excessive wheat intake, is most likely responsible for many cases (if not most) of asthma.  Such a diet can cause acidity levels and consequent inflammation anywhere in the body, including the airways.
Animal products are naturally high in arachidonic acid and other potent mediators of inflammation.  These mediators create inflammation responses in epithelial tissue, such as that which lines the airways.  Such inflammation responses in airways tissue can cause production of excess mucus (the body's attempt to stabilise the inflammation and eliminate the excess arachidonic acid and other inflammatory agents). The problem is exacerbated when one understands that during the slaughtering of animals, the beasts are subjected to the stress of being transported off to the abattoirs, standing in lines, waiting with the sounds and smells of death all around them, for their execution; what happens is that the organs of these animals  (mainly the adrenal glands) secrete large amounts of stress hormones, notably adrenaline and cortisol (the "fear/ flight /fight" hormones) into their blood stream and into their tissues.  These elevated stress hormones remain present in the meat eaten by us.  These hormones are also mediators of inflammation in our bodies.

When meat is cooked, fats and oils are often heated to temperatures where the oils change their molecular structures, and powerful "free radical" molecules are formed. Hydrogenated vegetable oils such as are present in margarines contain large amounts of these free radicals. These free radicals also cause inflammation in our body which further exacerbates the problem.  And also, they weaken the body's immune system, making it less able to deal with the processes of extra-inflammation occurring.

The other thing with the typical Aussie diet, is that the ratio between the omega-3 fatty acids (the so-called "good oil" because it is anti-inflammatory in the body) and the omega-6s and other fats and oils (eg saturated fats which are inflammatory in the body) has altered a lot over the last 100 yrs, as our diets and lifestyles have changed.  It should be noted in this context, that 100 years ago, asthma was not the life-threatening illness which it is today4.
Given that the organs of digestion in an infant are not properly developed until at least 12 months of age, giving a baby such foods as noted above, a lot more of these mediators of inflammation are going to be absorbed straight into the bloodstream than would otherwise enter once the gastro-intestinal tissues and organs are mature.  The effect of any impartially digested protein fragments thus in the bloodstream, can be to cause immune confusion, an abnormal production of inflammatory mediators (eg LTs, PGs, kinins and others), and auto-antibodies which will attack susceptible tissue, such as bronchial (airways) tissue. So poor weaning practises (especially those which encourage young mums to go onto animal formula products and animal proteins before 12 months of age), lie as a primary culprit in this matter.

Role of the Immune System

The importance of an impaired immune state must be noted. In a healthy individual, the body's natural defences can handle these asthma-triggering assaults, but in the immune-compromised person (such as a young child who may have been weaned improperly, has been injected with lots of different vaccines, has been assaulted with numerous courses of antibiotics etc), the body's natural immune functions become overwhelmed and sluggish, creating a susceptibility to the triggers.  "A history of chronic colds and bronchitis (symptomatic of a lowered immune state) is usually reported by asthma sufferers prior to their disorder" (Trattler, Ross and Jones, Adrian Better Health Through Natural Healing 19:112).  Within this context, children are prescribed antibiotics for these colds and flus, which tend to further depress natural immunity.

Many of the antibiotics prescribed are known5 to cause asthma in certain individuals.  There is no doubt that exposure to antibiotics during manufacture can cause asthma (called 'occupational asthma'); it could also be considered equally, if not more harmful, to ingest a substance such as a drug, than to breathe air contaminated with its dust.  Dr Lisa Landymore-Lim in her book Poisonous Prescriptions (1994 Podd Pub., W Australia) notes that "an association between antibiotic exposure and asthma is accepted both by the medical profession and the Dept. of Social Security in the UK and the Health Dept. of Australia. However, general practitioners and the general public are either apparently unaware of this association, or have not drawn what I consider to be a logical conclusion; i.e. exposure to antibiotics for medicinal purposes, may actually cause asthma" (i.e. make an otherwise healthy person into an asthmatic, not merely act as a trigger) (op. cit. p.153).

Also, medical literature is replete with cases of children who have been treated for eczema with steroids, who end up suffering from asthma later on. The relationship of continuity between the 'external' skin and the 'internal' skin (airways and gut epithelium) is often overlooked. Suppression of symptoms of eczema may well be causatively implicated in asthma (and gut problems also). And while the relationship between the liver and (external) skin has been acknowledged, the relationship between the liver and (internal) tracheal and bronchial epithelium is less acknowledged, but surely exists for the same reasons.            

These are compelling reasons enough, let alone risking damage to gut tissue causing Leaky Gut Syndrome, to abhor the common medical practice of prodigal antibiotic prescription (See InfoSheet The Antibiotic Syndrome).

In asthmatics, an "attack" can cause constriction of the airways in a form of strangulation that locks air in the lungs, making it difficult to exhale.   These airways can constrict down to the size of a pinhole.  The triggers while many, are themselves not the cause of asthma; an over-acidic system, and a compromised immune system lie at the root of being asthmatic. Reversing the situation takes commitment and dedication, as the cure is not easy to effect, especially in wilful young children who like their dairy milk, ice-cream, cheese etc. But it will be effective, and the rewards for effort worthwhile, not just for reducing asthma, but these same underlying causes of asthma underlie many other disease states as well. 

Mature Onset Asthma

Whilst the above dietary considerations need to be assessed in the patient presenting with mature onset asthma, we have found clinically that the occurrence of wheat protein allergy (occurs mainly with Australian wheat) is a major factor.  Gluten sensitivity is represented across the population in varying degrees, and with varying manifestations; in on person it can be asthma, in another eczema, in another, arthritis, and so on.

Testing the allergy hypothesis

The food allergy hypothesis is best tested by eliminating dairy and dairy-containing products and wheat and wheat derived products absolutely from the diet for 3 - 4 weeks, then challenging with a day on dairy or wheat products.  During the elimination phase, favourable changes will be noticed within the respiratory tract, as the body desensitises to the allergen. The levels of mucus and wheezing will diminish during this time.
Then a challenge is made, exposing the body to the suspected allergen after a length of time will create very clear signs and symptoms.  A glass of milk on day 22  will soon show you for your eyes just how allergic your child is to dairy.  You will see how much mucus  the milk will create, in just a few hours.  There could even be an asthma attack, although since the respiratory tract will be much less inflamed (yes, even after just 3 or 4 weeks), it is unlikely.

Preventing childhood asthma

Prevention is still better than cure!  Take proper, naturopathic advice as to weaning, (best practise is to breast feed for at least 12 months, and introduce infants to fresh, organic (chemical-free) fruit and vegetables first (which contain much less-complex molecules than protein molecules of milk or soy).  Once the immature digestive system has gotten used to these, small amounts of more complex molecules may be added, from organic vegetarian sources such as soy milk, rice milk, oat milk or some nut milks.

Do not rush in to animal products or wheat products (eg breads, weet-bix etc) until the child is 2 years old at least .  Do not be sold out by the vested interests of either the Dairy Corporation or the Meat producers; your children do not need these products ever, either for calcium or protein; a balanced vegetarian diet will give them all the nutrients they need, without all the down-sides animal products can bring.  Some dairy such as yoghurt, the white cheeses (feta, cottage, etc) and butter is fine for most folk however.

Also, learn how to honour the body's natural immune system.  Learn how to treat the usual childhood coughs and colds, flus and fevers, sore throats and infections naturally, without resorting to drugs.  If you have any doubts about the connexions of repeated antibiotic usage with childhood asthma (and other diseases such as diabetes) read Landymore-Lim's book.

Healing asthma

Alkalinise the system!  If the elimination-challenge testing proves positive, you will need to take your child off dairy, in all its forms, eg milk, ice-cream, cheese, butter and yoghurt, and dairy products used in biscuits, cakes, breads, etc. Find out what alternatives you can use for this time.  Clearly, to allow healing, you must exclude all forms of dairy and/or wheat from the child's diet, until such time as a re-challenge proves negative (maybe 12 months).

Program a change to a largely vegetarian diet (which can include deep sea fish, but not chicken) and make the change over a 3 month period for all the family (everyone will benefit, and parents must lead by example).  Use large amounts of anti-inflammatory herbs in your cooking, such as garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, chilli peppers; and include the "good oils"6 (high in omega-3s, which are also anti-inflammatory) such as flaxseed oil and marine oils such as cod liver, salmon, sardine in the diet.

These trials have only proven what naturopaths have known, all along.  So why isn't this common knowledge? Who is not telling us, and why not???  One reason is possible, and that is vested interests, by both the drug manufacturers of the so-called anti-asthma drugs, (which don't offer a cure) or by the Dairy Corp., or both. Of course the Dairy Corp. has no obligation to tell us, even when our kids are dying from asthma in unprecedented numbers. But doctors should, the Asthma Foundation should, the Government should.  No need to spend more monies on research, or new drugs; prevention and the cure for most asthma is right in front of our faces.  Of course, the people who benefit most from donations to such causes (all the people who find benefit, through contracts or employment in these foundations and societies) will want to continue the charade.

Some supplementary herbal and other naturopathic practise and prescriptions may be very useful in promoting more rapid recovery and healing.

1. So-called "triggers" of an asthma "attack" have included pollen, dust-mites, moulds and yeasts, viruses, strong odours, exercise in cold air, cigarette smoke, animal danders, etc., etc.

2. Shades of Pasteur versus Bechamp, lets see it clearly for what it is.

3. The demulcent activity of Marshmallow in the gut soothes the respiratory mucosa through the same reflex. - MediHerb Monitor No.5, June 1993) .

4. In the early 1900s, Sir William Osler wrote that "asthma is not a life-threatening disease".  What has contributed to the increasing morbidity(sickness)  and mortality (death) over the past century to change this state of affairs?  Certainly the external environment has become more polluted with large amounts of sulphur dioxide from petrol refineries and coal-fired power stations, higher levels of sulphites from petrol fumes and in general, a much greater airborne chemical load from over 70,000 chemicals in production today.  Cigarette smoking has increased significantly. And we are eating more junky foods, highly processed and chemicalised foods;  dietary changes have favoured a hyper-acidic internal environment promoting inflammation and hypersensitivity of bronchial tissue. There has been also a huge chemical load imposed from pharmaceutical medicines.  Avoiding exposure to the external environment is important; but managing the internal environment over which we do have a lot of control by living in a non-toxic way, practising detoxification as part of our way of living, lessening the load on and providing dietary and botanical support for our livers must be the goal of any meaningful asthma therapy. penicillin, ampicillin, amoxycillin, cephalosporins, tetracycline, spiramycin and erythromycin. As well as being medicinally prescribed, many of these antibiotics come through the food chain (eg meat, milk and eggs containing antibiotics) and may result in sensitisation, such that a severe reaction may result from a later (eg medicinal) exposure. Landymore-Lim 1994:155.

6.Consume 1 - 2 Tbsp flaxseed oil / day.  Cold water fish such as esp salmon, sardines, trout are also rich in omega-3  content, which is anti-inflammatory. Unfortunately, cooking the fish might destroy some of  this delicate oil.  Krill oil is another option, as is virgin coconut oil.

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