The statistics are grim. One in 12 Americans—25 million children and adults—have asthma. Incidence has dramatically increased in the past 15 years, as reflected in rising use of asthma medications. Advair is the second most prescribed medication in the US, and worldwide sales of asthma drugs exceed $16 billion and are expected to increase to $23 billion by 2023.
Prescription drugs can be lifesaving, and several natural asthma remedies help with long-term control. But before we get into treatments, let’s discuss a concern that is under increasing scrutiny: “All that wheezes is not asthma.”
“All That Wheezes Is Not Asthma”
Misdiagnosis of asthma is not a new problem. This quote, by Chevalier Jackson, MD, dates back to 1865! However, today’s “epidemic” of asthma makes it particularly relevant.
In a recent study, Dutch researchers reviewed the medical records of 656 children diagnosed with asthma and determined that 53 percent had no clinical signs of the condition. Australian researchers found that after thorough testing of kids with chronic cough, half of whom were initially diagnosed with asthma, only five percent actually had it. Diagnostic guidelines in the United Kingdom are being revamped based on studies showing that up to a third of adults with asthma have been mislabeled, and Canadian experts believe a similar percentage of children and adults there have been misdiagnosed.
Diagnosis is often made in patients who have respiratory infections, which can cause wheezing, coughing, and labored breathing similar to asthma. Acid reflux and GERD irritate the esophagus and throat and may present with asthma-like symptoms. Obstruction of the throat and windpipe, vocal cord dysfunction, emphysema and COPD, heart failure, and side effects of some drugs may also be mistaken for asthma.
If your asthma isn’t getting better on your current regimen, rather than automatically increasing your medication dose, ask your doctor to rule out other conditions. Or if your symptoms are so mild that you rarely require treatment, get a definitive diagnosis.
Asthma Remedies: Drugs Help—and Harm
That said, asthma can be a life-threatening condition that requires serious medical management. Everyone with asthma should have a “rescue” inhaler on hand at all times for quick relief of symptoms. Short-acting beta2 agonists (albuterol, Proventil, Ventolin, ProAir) work within minutes to relax the muscles in the bronchioles, which constrict during an attack, restrict airflow, and cause wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
For long-term control, the most effective medications are inhaled corticosteroids (Pulmacort, Aerobid, Flovent). Inflammation of the airways increases sensitivity to irritants that trigger attacks, as well as swelling and mucus buildup that make breathing more difficult. Regular use of corticosteroids reduces inflammation and helps prevent future flare-ups. These inhalers are much safer than oral steroids, which may be prescribed for severe cases. However, extended or heavy use suppresses adrenal function and growth in children and increases risk of respiratory infections.
Long-acting beta2 agonists (Serevent, Foradil) are also used for long-term control, generally combined with corticosteroids (Advair, Symbicort). These prescription drugs—which require a black box label warning that they increase the risk of asthma-related death—are indicated only for serious disease that can’t be controlled by corticosteroids alone, and many experts recommend that children avoid them altogether. Nevertheless, massive overuse, spurred by aggressive, shady marketing, has made Advair the world’s best-selling asthma drug.
Other prescription asthma remedies include leukotriene receptor antagonists, theophylline, and biologics, which all have safety concerns and should be used only if first-line meds don’t work.
Natural Asthma Remedies That Work
Everyone with asthma knows about smoking and airborne allergens, but did you know that food sensitivities can trigger attacks? Or that imbalances in gut bacteria are a risk factor that can be addressed by a healthy diet and probiotic supplements? Another natural asthma remedy is weight loss. Obesity is linked with asthma risk and severity, and losing weight often leads to improvements. Exercise is a common asthma trigger but with proper precautions actually enhances lung function and quality of life.
Vitamin C and other antioxidants, vitamin D, and natural anti-inflammatories such as fish oil have proven benefits for asthma control, but the most important nutrient is magnesium. Magnesium relaxes the muscles of the bronchioles and opens the airways. Studies reveal that high-dose magnesium given intravenously in emergency rooms restores breathing and reduces the need for hospitalization, and a recent clinical trial found that nebulized (inhaled) magnesium worked as well as albuterol for acute attacks.
Magnesium supplements are also a helpful natural asthma remedy. For years, K.M. endured multiple asthma attacks daily, despite using two inhalers and high doses of oral steroids. Then she started taking magnesium for her arthritis. To her surprise and delight, her wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath gradually disappeared. “I am now completely free of any asthma symptoms. I feel like God has given me a reprieve.”
I’ll close with a little-know prescription drug that is an excellent asthma remedy. Low-dose naltrexone (LDN) is a safe, inexpensive medication with a multitude of uses because it modulates immune function and reduces inflammation. We treated a nine-year-old boy whose asthma was so severe that he required oral steroids and frequent emergency room visits. Within three months of starting LDN, he was off oral drugs, he rarely uses a rescue inhaler, and his last trip to the ER was more than three years ago.
Asthma is a serious condition, but it’s also often overdiagnosed, relegating millions to unnecessary daily drug use and a lifetime of worry. That’s why it’s so important to get a definitive diagnosis and appropriate treatment so everyone can enjoy what most of us take for granted: a breath of fresh air.
Asthma Remedies Recap
Everyone with serious asthma should work closely with their doctors and take medications as prescribed. If current drugs are not working—or if a rescue inhaler is rarely required—discuss further testing for a definitive diagnosis. Identify and avoid airborne allergens, food sensitivities, and other triggers.
Suggested natural asthma remedies include a daily multivitamin, vitamin D 2,000-5,000 IU, fish oil 1,000 mg EPA/DHA, and magnesium 500-1,000 mg. For more information on allergy treatment at Whitaker Wellness, call 866-944-8253 or fill out this form for a free consultation with one of our Patient Services Representatives. To learn more about LDN, visit www.ldnscience.org.