Complementary Treatments For Asthma Through Vitamins, Minerals and Acupuncture

Asthma Treatment
Asthma is a lower-respiratory disease that cause breathlessness, chest tightness, and wheezing and coughing that can develop in both children and adults. It is due to an inflammatory swelling of the airways and overproduction of mucus, causing narrowing and restriction. While there are helpful “rescue” medications that can relieve the symptoms of asthma (such as bronchodilators), looking at the root causes can help prevent exacerbations and reduce the severity. There exists a correlation between people with asthma and those with allergies; approximately 80 percent of people with one condition also have or will develop the other. Identifying and addressing potential allergies is an important part of asthma management.

Common Asthma Triggers 

» environmental pollution 

» viral infections 

» exercise 

» certain medications

Risk Factors

» stress 

» smoking 

» excess alcohol consumption 

» increased body fat

Reduce Allergies & Sensitivity 

Asthma symptoms can be reduced when a trigger is identified and avoided. Dietary triggers may activate inflammatory pathways; these are different for each person and require some individual assessment, but common drivers include gluten, shellfish, eggs, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soy, and sulphite-containing foods. Once the body is sensitized to respond to a particular food, it can become more reactive and harder to manage over time, so early identification is key. 

Certain dietary patterns can also predispose vulnerable individuals to an overactive inflammatory response, such as a diet high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and excessive omega-6 fatty acids. Meanwhile, a well-balanced, plant-forward diet rich in colourful whole foods is linked with reduced asthma symptoms.

Dietary Approaches

The two main strategies when addressing asthma are to improve immune system function and decrease excessive inflammation. The following are nutritional approaches that benefit the immune and respiratory systems from the inside out.

Fibre-Rich & Fermented Foods: The microbiome (the population of bacteria and yeast that reside in and on the human body) plays a critical role in coordinating appropriate immune responses. Lifestyle factors that modify the microbiome can increase the risk of developing both allergies and asthma, such as excessive use of anti-bacterial products, a highly processed diet, extensive time spent indoors, and lack of physical activity. Encouraging a healthy microbiome through diet consists mainly of eating plant-forward foods abundant in fibre. Fibre feeds beneficial organisms in the gut, which enables them to support a healthy immune system response. Fermented foods such as yogurt (hold the sugar!) and kimchi are also excellent for cultivating a healthy microbiome. Probiotic supplements may also be a good choice for certain individuals with a tendency for asthma and allergies. Doses and strains are highly relevant when it comes to probiotics, so talk to your naturopathic doctor.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Modern diets tend to contain excessive omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation, compared to omega-3s, which tend to subdue it. By boosting omega-3 intake, tendencies towards excessive inflammation (such as asthma) can be mitigated. The powerful combination of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in omega-3s are known to increase the production of the anti-inflammatory chemicals resolvin and protectin.¹ These mediators inhibit the production of proinflammatory cytokines, which can help reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.

Fish oils, in particular, have been studied for their protective effect on exercise-induced asthma in a 2:1 EPA to DHA ratio. In one study, the group consuming fish oil experienced improved pulmonary function and a reduction in bronchodilator use compared to those consuming a placebo. The study also found that the fish oil group had a reduction in blood markers of immune system activation. Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in fish (especially deep cold water varieties such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines), as well as other food products, including algal or flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, eggs, yogurt, and fortified soy milk beverages. A supplement may be necessary to achieve a therapeutic dose in some cases.

Vitamin D: The healthy function of the immune system requires appropriate levels of vitamin D, a nutrient that is deficient among most people in North America. A deficiency of vitamin D is associated with an increased frequency of asthma episodes; correcting this deficiency through supplementation can support the immune system and reduce excessive inflammation. One study demonstrated reduced frequency and intensity of asthma exacerbations and hospitalizations over six months of vitamin D supplementation. Correcting vitamin D deficiency may be particularly important for individuals who also experience persistent chest infections.

The human body manufactures vitamin D in the skin when exposed to the sun. It is advised to balance this wonderful benefit of sun exposure with sun safety—generally, 15 minutes a day of full-skin exposure can generate enough. However, this can be tricky to do in climates further from the equator, particularly in cultures where a lot of time is spent indoors. That’s where we need to rely on diet. Food sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, rainbow trout, sockeye salmon, white raw mushrooms, fortified milks and cereals, sardines, eggs, beef liver, and canned tuna fish. It is also strongly recommended that most people take a supplement to augment natural sources.

Magnesium: Magnesium helps to relax the smooth bronchial muscles, which increases the flow of air to the lungs, reducing the effects of asthma. One study demonstrated that adults between the ages of 21–55 with mild-to-moderate asthma experienced improvements in bronchial reactivity and quality of life over six months of supplementation with magnesium compared with a placebo. Another study demonstrated improved measures of lung function after only eight weeks of oral magnesium supplementation. Many dietary sources are high in magnesium and include pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cooked spinach, cashews, peanuts, shredded wheat, soymilk, black beans, and edamame. Magnesium is considered a safe supplement, although it can cause loose stools when taken in excess.

Note: For any new supplementation in your routine, consult with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner for the products and dosages best suited to you.

Other Strategies 

Acupuncture: The practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) most commonly associates asthma symptoms with an energetic Lung and/or Kidney qi deficiency. When Lung qi is deficient, they cannot properly perform their primary role of governing respiration; a disharmony between the Kidneys and Lungs can also produce wheezing and chest tightness. One systematic review and meta-analysis of nine research studies evaluated the addition of acupuncture for asthma patients receiving conventional treatment. Results demonstrated that adding acupuncture to conventional treatments could improve the symptom response rate and help relieve asthma. TCM is more than just acupuncture; a trained practitioner can also advise on lifestyle, nutritional, and herbal strategies to improve Lung and Kidney function.

Herbal Medicine: There are various plant medicines from many traditions around the world that can improve lung function and regulate immune system activity. These medicines are best selected and combined specifically for each individual, but there are common formulations that are easily available in health food stores. As always, talk to a knowledgeable practitioner about safety and effectiveness before trying any new medicine.

Increasing the intake of fibre-rich and fermented foods, omega-3s, vitamin D, and magnesium can help to improve immune function and reduce the inflammation that underlies asthma. Additional strategies, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, can also help to improve respiratory and immune system function.