Natural Approaches to Asthma
By Andrea Candee
For some children, asthma can be quite a simple issue to resolve; for others, it can be life threatening. The same toxins that cause eczema in one child or sinus congestion in another can cause the breathing tubes to constrict in a child so genetically predisposed. Skin and sinus issues are uncomfortable, but a fight for breath can be terrifying.
There are many natural ways to approach asthma. Hopefully, by implementing them you can keep your child’s condition under control. If the asthma requires medication, perhaps you can keep it to a minimum by combining it with natural approaches.
As I see it, in addition to genetics, there are five basic challenges to the child with asthma:
1. Environmental toxins
2. Food intolerance
3. Emotional stress
4. Physical exertion (as in sports)
You may not be able to alter the genetic patterns that have set your child up to express toxins in the lower respiratory area, but you can take charge of your child’s exposure to those toxins, thereby minimizing the challenges and discomfort.
Because humans are such diverse beings, there is no official checklist telling us which pollutants will cause your child’s airways to contract. Below is a list you should be aware of; note your child’s reaction when in the presence of each. The tricky thing is that exposure to one toxin many not set your child off, but in addition to the presence of another toxin, it might. Keeping a diary helps, as does keen observation.
Recirculated air found in malls, airplanes and office buildings
Unclean filters used in home or office air conditioners, air purifiers and heating systems
Pollen and mold spores
High ozone counts, “bad air” days, smog, factory air pollution
Cleaning products (home, office and laundry); restaurants often allow staff to clean floors and tabletops while you are dining -- watch out!
Chemicals in newly purchased, unlaundered clothing and linens
Dust in the home (check curtains, carpeting, stuffed animals -- behind, above and below everything)
Fragrances (perfume, perfumed samples in magazines, fragranced products)
Classrooms (including paint, chalk, newspaper ink, naptime bedding and marking pens)
Exhaust fumes from autos and machinery
Chlorine in swimming pools and cleaning products
Damp, musty places, bedding and clothing
Outdoor barbecue fumes
Beauty salon chemicals
Animal dander and feathers; feather pillows, down comforters and jackets
If this makes you want to put your youngster in a padded cell, then at least be sure the padding has been washed in natural detergent!
In addition to aggressively keeping your home free of environmental toxins, you can use an air purifier/ionizer to significantly help cleanse the air of fungus, bacteria and chemical odors. I use them throughout my home and office and have found the air quality to be noticeably improved -- even refreshing.
For many children, an accumulation of toxins is what sets them off.
If it’s your child’s allergy season, be more careful about what additional toxins his body is experiencing.
Consider avoiding certain foods during the pollen season so that your child can better tolerate the practically unavoidable exposure to airborne pollens.
In her book An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants (Keats, 1996), Dr. Mary Bove recommends giving your child magnesium and vitamin C before physical exertion to help prevent an asthma attack. Magnesium relaxes smooth muscles, and vitamin C helps stabilize chemicals that may act as triggers. Consult a nutritionist for doses appropriate to your child.
In my radio show, “Revealing Secrets for the Mind and Body,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Bill Wolverton about his book, How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office (Penguin). Dr. Wolverton is a retired NASA research scientist and one of the world’s foremost authorities in the use of natural processes for environmental pollution control. His photographs and simple charts make it easy to select the best houseplants to purify your environment. Many of these plants are easily found in any greenhouse or plant store. Plants are not just visual treats but nature’s living air purifiers!
Comparing nature with the human body, Dr. Wolverton explains:
The rain forest acts as the earth’s lungs, producing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.
Human lungs breathe in the plants’ oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.
The wetlands function as the earth’s kidneys, with the aquatic plants filtering nutrients and environmental toxins from the water as it flows back into streams, rivers and oceans.
Our kidneys filter impurities from our bloodstream.
An interesting fact to be noted for children with mold sensitivity: plant-filled rooms contain 50-60 percent fewer airborne molds and bacteria than rooms without plants. Dr. Wolverton has developed fan-assisted planters that can be as effective as 200 plants in removing toxins from your personal breathing zone. You can obtain a catalog from Wolverton Environmental Services.
The vagus nerve feeds both the stomach and the bronchial tubes. An offending food can irritate the vagus nerve; this in turn causes increased mucus secretions and constriction in the muscular rings that surround the bronchial tubes.
A sensitivity to certain foods may or may not be the root cause of your child’s asthma, but it can certainly exacerbate this condition. Dairy is the number one food to be avoided since it is a mucus-producing and mucus-thickening food, and an asthmatic child is already challenged by an excess of thickened mucus.
The younger child’s diet is pretty much under your control. You can take charge! You can’t change genetic patterns, but you can influence food intake. If you’re not comfortable testing foods yourself, then bring your child and the foods you suspect to a health practitioner who includes kinesiology in his or her practice and let him do the tests for you. If you can successfully eliminate poorly tolerated foods from your child’s diet, you can remove some of the burden from the immune system. It can then work more effectively to resist other challenging substances in the child’s environment.
Beware of food additives, especially sulfites and monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG can be hidden in food products under the label “hydrolized protein” and “flavorings.” Sulfites are often found in dried fruits. Look for “unsulfured” dried fruits in the health food store. Commercially prepared salads usually contain sulfites, as can grocery store herbs.
Empower your child
Of course, school-aged children can (and will) get their hands on forbidden foods all too easily.
Help your child to understand the consequences of eating the wrong foods.
Understanding develops empowerment and responsibility. It also helps develop self-esteem and diminishes that helpless feeling of being a victim of one’s own body’s fragile airways --especially when the other kids don’t have the same problem to deal with.
It’s also important for you to recognize that food sensitivities can change over time. Assure your child you will test the offending foods at some point in the future and will reintroduce them into the diet if they are well tolerated.
Explaining to your child that eating these foods will make him feel worse because of the environmental problems in the classroom may help him to resist food temptations.
Similarly, it is important that you alert the child’s teachers to potential classroom hazards so that they are aware of the problem.
Be sure to provide the foods that are safe for your child and those that promote general health.
Make them taste good and look appetizing. (Remember, they’re in direct competition with those colorful and “tasty” foods that are absolutely laden with chemicals and dyes.) In fact, if they’re interesting enough, other children will want to sample your kid’s goodies -- and imagine how delighted your child will be to share his food with friends.
But be sure to caution your child against food swaps. One doesn’t have to receive to give!
While we’re on the subject of food, I’d like to share a nugget of wisdom from Dr. John R. Christopher. Decades ago, Dr. Christopher advocated “eating from under your own fig tree,” meaning that food is healthiest for you when eaten in season from your own locale.
This advice presciently pre-dates the dangerous agricultural chemicals now used to grow our foods. Chemicals considered too harmful to pass U.S. standards are often shipped to other countries, used on their produce and then exported back to America. Ironically, we pay a premium for imported foods containing chemicals considered too harmful for our own farmers to use!
Stress can cause many parts of the body to contract or go into spasm. If your back is your personal Achilles’ heel, then stress may put you into spasm. For the child with asthma, emotional upset may induce wheezing.
Empower your child with the ability to bring the emotions back into check. The following techniques require your help and input at first, but once your child understands how to use them, she can do them on her own.
Visualizations can be created to help your child imagine the airways opening. This is a very effective tool, one used by corporate executives, sports figures and cancer patients. Many books have been written about the subject, and with each new day, conventional medical practitioners are adding this therapy to health programs they prescribe. If you prefer, an expert in the field can help design the imagery.
Meditation techniques relax the body and mind. Anyone at any age can meditate anywhere. Seek professional guidance in this area or read one of the many books written about meditation. There are even books written especially about meditation for children.
Focused breathwork is a technique that can strengthen the lungs and teach your child how to breathe more effectively. You can discuss this approach with a practitioner who is trained in this area.
Bach Flower Essences can help your child deal with ongoing emotional challenges. A special formula can be created for your child’s emotional needs.
Nervine herbs can be used to help a child through a period of emotional stress. Valerian, passionflower, lemon balm and hops are classic nervine herbs that nourish and calm the nervous system.
Many children experience exercise-induced asthma when playing sports or other physically challenging activities. The stress-sensitive adrenal glands, when depleted, can cause a drain on the bronchials, inducing wheezing.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) helps rid the bronchials of excess mucus by supplying a natural form of cortisone, an anti-inflammatory substance, which also feeds the adrenal glands.
Give a dose of the liquid extract of licorice root just before your child heads off to sports or any physical activity. Half-time in a football game or time-outs in soccer are great opportunities to provide a second dose, if needed.
Sugar depletes the adrenals. Be sure your child has eaten a healthy meal before engaging in strenuous physical activity.
Check your health food store for herbal formulations and homeopathic remedies designed to support the adrenals.
Be sure your child is well hydrated before and during physical activity. Bottled or filtered water is always preferable.
A torque here, a twist there -- before you know it, a subluxation of the spine, a vertebrae out of place. Chiropractic adjustments can have a beneficial effect on adrenal function, as well as strengthen the lung area.
When a child with asthma gets a cold, you can usually count on it moving into the chest. This inevitably is followed by coughing and wheezing -- and the cycle begins again. Check out the herbal protocols for cold and flu prevention, because in preventing a cold, you’ve effectively prevented another asthma attack.
If your child’s immune system is low in energy, it will impact the weaker parts of the body. To be sure energy is not being drawn from the bronchial/lung area, keep the immune system as strong as possible.
Natural approaches to asthma attacks
Cayenne’s circulatory stimulating and broncho-dilating properties make it an excellent strengthener of the lungs and bronchials. The same property of hot cayenne pepper in food that can make your eyes water is causes a flow of secretions in the bronchial passages, thinning the mucus so it can be dispersed and reabsorbed by the body.
It can be given on an ongoing basis, three times a day, as a long-term therapy. If your child is having an asthma attack, you can dose cayenne every 10 minutes. You must be the judge of whether your child can deal with the burning sensation cayenne causes to the throat area.
Breathe Easy Tea by Traditional Medicinals contains herbs that help stop wheezing. To prepare, steep the tea bag for 15-20 minutes, covered, in a cup of boiled water.
Dr. Christopher’s Resp-Free formula, available in capsules or liquid, helps clear the lung area of mucus and is anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory. It is an excellent formula for ongoing therapy and specific asthma attacks.
Hot lemonade helps thin mucus and relaxes spasms. Prepare this to taste with freshly squeezed lemons (not commercially prepared lemon juice!), hot water and honey.
Homeopathic remedies specifically designed for your child’s constitution can be helpful in alleviating asthma. Consult a homeopathic physician for best results.
Cell salts provide excellent relief from asthma. The Biochemic Handbook lists the following cell salts for asthma, depending upon symptoms:
Kali Phos. Nervous asthma, hay asthma. The chief remedy for the breathing and depressed normal state.
Mag. Phos. Spasmodic nervous asthma. In alternation with Kali Phos.
Kali Mur. With gastric derangement, tongue coated white and mucus white.
Nat. Mur. Profuse, frothy mucus and tears streaming when coughing.
Calc. Phos. Bronchial asthma; clear, tough, gluey expectoration.
Kali Sulph. Bronchial asthma with yellow expectoration. Worse in the evening or in a hot, stuffy atmosphere.
Nat. Sulph. Asthma due to humid conditions with greenish, copious expectoration.
At the very least, these descriptions will make you take a closer look at your child’s symptoms. And, if used as recommended, cell salts really can help to bring asthma under control.
Honegar (apple cider vinegar and honey) helps to restore pH (acid/alkaline) balance in the body, which can be helpful in stopping wheezing. Combine a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a teaspoon of honey and mix with a half a cup of warm water. Allow your child to sip this mixture when in distress.
Valerian (Valeriana off.), blue cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) and lobelia (Lobelia inflata) are excellent anti-spasmodic herbs. Use liquid extracts of these herbs in combination to help your child during an attack. Based on an adult dose of about 40 drops of the combined herbs, dose your child according to weight.
Start with equal parts valerian and blue cohosh, then add just a few drops of lobelia, a powerful anti-spasmodic. (Important: be careful not to overdose lobelia, which could cause vomiting. But do not be afraid of the proper dosage, because it acts as a catalyst to the other herbs.) A dose of this combined herbal preparation, diluted in a little water or juice, can be given every 15 minutes during an asthma attack.
Acupressure can also help. There is an acupressure point midway between the spine and the top of the shoulder that may stop wheezing. Use your thumbs to hold these points for as long as your child will allow. These points will probably be sensitive at first, but if held long enough can bring enough energy to the bronchials to relax them and provide much-needed relief.
Please understand that the natural approach to asthma does not mean immediately withdrawing your child’s medication. Instead, introduce these natural therapies concurrently with asthma drugs. As these therapies strengthen the bronchial/lung area, less of the medication may be required. With the guidance of your pediatrician, medication can be slowly tapered off, replaced by the safe, natural supports discussed here.
Eventually, by further strengthening the lungs and immune system and by eliminating poorly tolerated foods, managing environmental issues and helping your child better cope with stress, you will be able to withdraw even these natural supports.
You may find the natural approach to asthma management a bit overwhelming at first. That’s understandable, since North Americans are accustomed to the “silver bullet” approach -- that is, let a magic pill do all the work. Take it one step at a time, make changes gradually and you will find encouragement in the positive response from your child -- and more importantly, from the relief your child feels.
For details and dosing information on remedies discussed above, please consult Gentle Healing for Baby and Child by Andrea Candee.
Excerpted from Gentle Healing for Baby and Child by Andrea Candee (Simon & Schuster).
© Andrea Candee
Andrea Candee is a master herbalist, media expert, nationally known lecturer and author of the award-winning Gentle Healing for Baby and Child (Simon & Schuster), which received The National parenting Center's Seal of Approval. Andrea is noted nationally for her unique and successful approach to Lyme Disease. She lives and maintains a consultation health practice in New York and shares much of her knowledge at www.AndreaCandee.com.