Recent studies indicate the incidence of asthma in children has increased 72 percent in the last decade. Many authorities blame indoor and environmental air pollution. Some studies suggest that food allergies and food additives have contributed to the increase.
Asthma is an acute or chronic inflammation of the respiratory tract characterized by recurrent symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Asthma is an allergic response to anything that irritates the lungs, causing them to constrict.
Although a severe asthma attack can constitute a medical emergency, most asthmatic patients manage their symptoms with medication (bronchodilators and steroid inhalers).
However, some natural therapies can help decrease the incidence and severity of asthma attacks, allowing patients to use less medicine or, in mild cases, discontinue it entirely.
Remember the story of the straw that broke the camel’s back? Some asthmatics can tolerate a lot of straws, but one too many brings them down.
So, what can you do to help minimize the number of straws on your child’s back?
• Reduce the allergic threshold. Eliminate lung irritants such as dust, animal hair, mold, cigarette smoke, household chemicals, perfumes, food allergens and food additives.
• Wash bedding regularly to eliminate dust mites. Wash sheets in hot water once a week, all other bedding once a month. Don’t forget to wash the curtains hanging over your child’s bed. Kill dust mites in your pillow by putting it in the dryer on high for 30 to 40 minutes. Use dust mite covers for comforters, pillows, box springs and mattresses; wash the covers once a month. One place to purchase covers is Allergy Control Products at 1-800-422-DUST.
• Use an air filter in your child’s bedroom. This is particularly important if you live near a busy street or highway.
• Identify and eliminate food allergens. In 1997, The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Allergy published a study indicating that children with food allergies have a higher incidence of asthma. Other studies have shown a reduction in asthmatic symptoms when food allergens are eliminated.
Laboratory tests or an elimination diet can be done to identify whether a food is aggravating symptoms. To follow an elimination diet, avoid ingesting the most common food offenders — eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, milk, chocolate, wheat, citrus fruits and food colorings — for one week. Then reintroduce each food, one at a time. On the day the food is reintroduced, eat it three to four times on that day only. Watch for an aggravation of asthmatic or allergic symptoms for the following three days.
• Avoid food additives. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, commonly used as a flavor enhancer in the Asian diet, can cause problems for asthmatics. MSG can be hidden under the names hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed yeast, sodium caseinate or calcium caseinate.
Metabisulfite — another food additive found on dried fruits, in salad bars and in many commercial foods — can initiate asthmatic symptoms in people sensitive to sulfites.
• Increase omega-three fatty acids in your child’s diet. According to the book “Smart Medicine For a Healthier Child” by Janet Zand, Rachel Walton and Bob Rountree, the omega-three fatty acids found in fish, flax oil and evening primrose oil can help decrease the inflammatory response associated with asthmatic symptoms.
• Take vitamin C. Vitamin C is important in controlling allergic responses because it acts as an antihistamine (histamine is the compound that causes allergic reactions). A study published in The Journal of Nutrition showed that blood histamine levels fell after ingestion of 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C. Quercitin, a bioflavanoid which is part of the vitamin C complex, stabilizes the cells that release histamine and, therefore, decreases allergic reactions.
• Take magnesium. The bronchodilating effects of magnesium help asthmatics open airways. Most adults can tolerate up to 800 milligrams per day. Children, however, require much lower doses.
• Take vitamin B6. Studies report that some children with asthma have a defect in tryptophan metabolism that vitamin B6 can help correct. Research has also shown that a diet low in tryptophan significantly improved symptoms for some asthmatics. Cottage cheese, peanuts and turkey are some of the most common offenders.
Please check with your child’s physician regarding appropriate dosages for the above nutrients as they vary according to age. (Warning: Too much vitamin C and magnesium can cause diarrhea.)
Keep that last straw off your child’s back. By following the steps outlined above, you can help your child on the path to healthier lungs.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com.