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Asthma and asthmatics

The following article gives information about the very uncomfortable

condition of asthma. It is true that modern society and pollution has increased asthma levels around the world but you can fight back and help your body increase is defences against asthma. As part of our regular newsletter there will be examples of successful alternative treatments.

Asthma is a condition in which the muscles of the bronchi (the air tubes of the lung) contract in spasm, obstructing the flow of air and making breathing out, in particular, very difficult.

Asthma can often be triggered by a number of factors, including allergens (house pets, dust etc.), pollution, infection, emotional trauma or physical exertion. Some of the symptoms can be:

                     difficulty in breathing,
                     an increase in pulse rate,
                     wheezing-especially on breathing out,
                     a dry cough,
                     a sensation of tightness around the chest.

The reason that brochospasms can be triggered by allergies is that histamine, the chemical most responsible for allergy symptoms, seems to play a role in asthma attacks as well. But cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, aspirin and indoor pollution amongst other things can also trigger an attack.

Asthma is divided into two categories: intrinsic, for which there is no identifiable cause for the attacks, and extrinsic, which is caused by something (usually inhaled) that triggers an attack.

An asthma attack may be brief or last for several days. Typically, an attack begins within minutes after exposure to a triggering agent. Some patients have only occasional or "seasonal" symptoms, while others have daily symptoms. Asthma is a life threatening condition in many cases. Many people have died due to a severe attack.

While herbs, home remedies or natural medication may help in relieving the condition, it is imperative to listen to your health practitioner. If you are on medication, natural medication can assist, but should not be taken as a complete substitute. Believe it or not, research has shown that coffee, tea, caffeinated drinks, cocoa and chocolate all contain caffeine as well as other compounds that may help fend off asthma.

Coffee has been shown to be a potent bronchodilator. If caught without your medication, a few cups of coffee could assist in an emergency. All the products above contain natural anti-asthmatic compounds - theobromine and theophylline. These chemicals help stop bronchospasms and open constricted bronchial passages. There are of course variables depending on the strength of the brew etc. But on average coffee is the most concentrated form of caffeine, followed by tea, cola drink & cocoa then a chocolate bar. However there are side effects to high consumption of the above, use only in moderation, and/or in an emergency. Coffee addiction is not advocated.

One thing a person with asthma should stay away from is dairy products. Dairy products constrict the bronchial passageways. Many people who eat dairy notice that after they eat it, their noses and/or sinuses are congested. Or they wheeze or can't breath as easily.

Ginkgo Biloba is another very good herb that is good for fighting allergies. It is particularly helpful with asthma. Ginkgo is anti-inflammatory and relaxes the lungs. It has been used in Chinese medicine for hundred of years. Taken as either a tincture or a tea.

Echinacea and Garlic combine well to help fight chest infections: asthma, flu and colds. Garlic is a natural antibiotic and expectorant*. In some asthma patients the mucus glands in the airways produce excessively thick mucus which further obstructs the airflow. As garlic is an expectorant, it can help with these symptoms.

*expectorant: promoting the secretion, liquefaction or expulsion of sputum (mass or salivary matter ejected from the mouth) from the respiratory passages.

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) are an excellent treatment for allergic nasal symptoms. For centuries, cultures around the world have used this herb to treat nasal and respiratory troubles: coughs, runny nose, chest congestion, asthma, whooping cough and even tuberculosis. Four hundred years ago British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper claimed that nettle roots or leaves, used in juice or tea, were "safe and sure medicines to open the pipes and passages of the lungs". A scientific study recently published in America, showed that nettle was a potent antihistamine. The leaves of the young plant, best harvested from May to June and before flowering begins, can be used fresh or dried, as a tea. They can even be eaten as a vegetable, lightly steamed they have a similar texture to spinach. Fortunately the sting is lost after cooking!

Cayenne is another of natures' wonderfully powerful herbs. Also know as Capsicum, the botanical name being Capsicum frutescens. Cayenne is the species of capsicum that is used medicinally for its stimulant and antiseptic actions, as well as its antispasmodic properties. It will get the blood pumped around your body, strengthen your heart, clear your arteries and release muscle tension. Cayenne is a wonderful herb for a healthy life.

Liquorice is another expectorant and anti-inflammatory herb making it excellent for lung infections. Also very soothing on the throat. As a syrup or tincture it could reduce the incidence of asthma attacks. A few cautions on liquorice - do not use large doses and/or long term use as it can cause sodium and water retention, headaches, lethargy and high blood pressure. Avoid in pregnancy.

Aniseed was first prescribed for coughs by Hippocrates in the fifth century BC. The Greeks used aniseed in teas, to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments, as it is a mild expectorant and antibiotic. Aniseed contains creosol and alpha-pinene two chemicals that help to loosen bronchial secretions.

Fennel seeds also contains these chemicals and in higher quantities. Fennel is also known for its antispasmodic qualities. And like the nettle was highly prized by the Romans. Other herbs that contain the two aforementioned chemicals, listed in descending order, are: parsley seed, coriander, juniper berries, ginger, dill, tarragon and yarrow. A delicious tea could be made with a combination of these herbs, or taken in tincture form.

Lobelia also known as Indian tobacco and pukeweed, was smoked by the Native American Indians to relieve asthma. It features extensively in American Indian medicine, and with good reason as lobelia is a powerful and wonderful herb. It contains a number of active ingredients that are anti- asthmatic, it is a respiratory stimulant, reduces muscle tension and spasms. In large doses it causes vomiting and has been used by some herbalists for that very reason, to remove old infected puss and mucus form the lungs. Lobelia can be used internally to treat asthma and chronic bronchitis. As a tincture it is an effective aid to asthma treatment.

Other herbs which have healing properties with regard to asthma are: Thyme is used as an expectorant for congested lungs and reduces muscle tension. Helpful with asthma if taken regularly Great Mullein has anti-spasmodic and expectorant properties. Herbalists consider it effective for a great range of respiratory ailments, including bronchitis, asthma and catarrh. Vervain is helpful in asthma as it relieves chest tension.

CAUTION: A prolonged attack or severe asthma that does not respond to simple remedies requires immediate medical attention.

Copyright © 2002 P. Topham: U.S. Nutritional and Herbal Researcher - All Rights Reserved

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