Asthma takes away the freedom to enjoy a deep breath. That is something no child should have to experience. Seeing your child struggle to breathe is a heart-breaking experience for parents.
Asthma is caused by swelling in the airways. When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles around the airways become tight and the lining of the air passages swells. This reduces the amount of air that can pass by.
The main goal of naturopathic treatment of asthma is to treat the underlying cause of the problem. A child with asthma has an immune system that is hyper reactive. On a biochemical level, the immune system is releasing histamine and inflammatory chemicals in response to normally benign situations / triggers. Therefore, naturopathic physicians endeavor to promote the regulation of the immune system.
First, let’s explore the role of the immune system in asthma. White blood cells play a role in the genesis of asthma and allergies. One type of white blood cell, the type 2 T helper cells (Th2) play a triggering role in the activation of allergies and inflammation. They trigger the formation of IgE antibody which cause allergies, plus they tell mast cells to release histamine. The combination results in the allergic inflammation that drives most cases of childhood asthma.
Genetics play a role in who gets hyper-active Th2 cells, but evidence shows that the part of the immune system that lives in the lining of the intestines plays a role in activating the Th2 allergy producing cells. Eighty percent of the immune system hangs out in the intestines, assessing what you’ve taken into the body. It is here that all incoming material is marked friend or foe. This labeling process can become deranged if there is too much stress or inflammation in the intestines. The intestines can be inflamed by improper diet, food allergies, and toxins. One of the key triggers of a disordered immune response is an imbalance in the intestinal bacterial called the intestinal microbiome. The intestinal microbiome is such an important determinant of immune function that it is the number one area of research in all of medicine today. Imbalances in the microbiome can be caused by antibiotics use, high sugar and carbohydrate diets, and c-section births. Good bacteria in the intestines normally teach the immune system how to self-regulate. Without that function, the local immunity gets fired off randomly and allergies are triggered. Studies show that probiotics (good gut bacteria) enhance gut maturation in infants, and decrease the risk of atopic disease: asthma, allergies, and hay fever. Therefore, the naturopathic approach to asthma starts with a program to reduce the immune reactivity in the digestive system by reducing stresses on the intestines, such as food allergies and enhancing the intestinal microbiome.
There are nutrients that can also help stabilize the immune system. Specifically, they can help prevent the mast cells from releasing histamine and prevent the inflammatory reactions that follow. For instance, vitamin D is typically low in asthmatic children. In Canada, most children become deficient in Vitamin D in the winter. I advise supplementing vitamin D to all my patients in the Comox Valley. There are potent herbal antihistamines that are both safe and effective. Fish oil and other herbs like curcumin have anti-inflammatory effects as well as many side benefits. Certain mushrooms have been found to help calm down the hyperactive immune system by the regulating the overactive Th2 system in allergic children. Homeopathic medicine can be very helpful for children. An individualized homeopathic prescription by a naturopathic physician or homeopathic practitioner can help to strengthen the constitution of the child and reduce asthma symptoms.
If we determine that there are specific airborne allergens that are dominant triggers (such as dust, pollen, grass, cats) then we can start a process of allergy desensitization called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). This safe, non-injection, mercury free allergy desensitization technique has been shown to reduce allergies in 85% of people.
There are pros and cons to using conventional asthma medications. Asthma symptoms are caused by bronchospasm and by inflammation of the airways. The salbutamol or Ventolin (“the blue one”) works on the bronchospasm, while fluticasone or Flovent (“the orange one”) is an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) that works on the inflammation in the airway. Puffers can certainly help manage asthma symptoms and buy some time while we are working to solve the problem in a more long term manner.
Many children can overcome asthma if we treat them from the inside out and strengthen their immune system with a comprehensive naturopathic medical approach. The naturopathic approach to asthma is to firstly determine what allergic and other triggers are driving flare ups of asthma. Secondly, we work on reducing exposure to those triggers and use natural medicines to reduce the allergic and inflammatory reactions. Thirdly, we need to endeavor to balance the immune system by working with the deeper systems of the body to treat the underlying causes of the immune hyper-reactivity.