Blame it on the Groundhog

It seems that mother nature has forgotten about the east coast in her yearly springtime fashion show.  Instead of flowers, we get snow.  Instead of bright mornings with birds singing, we get snow.  Instead of colorful skirts and light jackets, we get… snow.  Sigh.  Shiver.

For those of you who suffer from asthma, you probably dread cold weather as much as I do.  And with the bizarre, frigid weather we’ve been having lately, your snow days probably haven’t been anymore fun than mine.  Cold weather, as well as allergens like pet dander, dust, pollen, and harsh chemicals, can trigger an asthma attack that can leave you breathless in seconds.  I’ve had several pretty terrible ones in the past few days, and while I told you in an earlier post that my Earth Solutions aromatherapy inhaler works well for small issues, it was simply no match for the kind of problems I’ve been facing.

Then, lo and behold, Natural News came to my rescue.  I found an article on their site this morning about 10 superfoods that help keep asthma symptoms at bay.  These shouldn’t be used in place of a rescue inhaler, but eaten daily, then can help reduce your risk of having an attack.

Natural News’ List of Breath-Friendly Foods:

images1) Avocado. The fruit with the highest known concentration of L-glutathione; avocado is an excellent anti-asthma food that helps protect cells against free radical damage and detoxify the body of pollutants and other harmful substances. Widely recognized as the “master” antioxidant, enabling all other antioxidants to function, the L-glutathione in avocados helps quells inflammation systemically and repair damaged gut health, a process that in turn helps prevent triggers of asthma from engaging.

kale-bunch-lg2) Kale. An excellent source of all-natural vitamin C; kale possesses a unique ability to block the free radicals responsible for causing contractions of smooth muscles in airway passages. Kale is also a great source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant phytochemical capable of both alleviating existing asthma symptoms and preventing future ones from forming.  [Really, though, who needs yet another excuse to eat kale?  It’s so delish!]

images23) Spinach. A study involving 68,535 female participants found that high intake of spinach is directly correlated with a lowered risk of asthma. This may be due to the fact that spinach is high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is prevalent among people with asthma, and emergency intravenous (IV) treatments with magnesium have been shown to help halt an asthma attack. Spinach is also high in potassium, a deficiency of which is also said to exacerbate asthma symptoms.

images34) Banana. A banana a day could keep asthma away, according to a 2011 study out of the U.K. Researchers from Imperial College London found that children who eat just one banana a day reduce their risk of developing asthmatic symptoms such as wheezing by about 34 percent. Bananas are also naturally high in fiber, which can help prevent respiratory conditions like asthma from developing.

images45) Water. For many of the people diagnosed with asthma, dehydration is the true cause of their asthma symptoms. In fact, according to water expert Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, the set of symptoms commonly labeled as asthma is actually just the body crying out for more water. So unless you have aquagenic urticaria, also known as water allergy, it is definitely worth your while to drink more clean, fluoride-free water every day to avoid developing asthma symptoms.

images56) Ginger. Loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients that pervade the entire body; ginger root is another powerful anti-asthma herb that some people say works better than antihistamine drugs like Benadryl at clearing up airways and stopping inflammation. And the best part about ginger root is that it does not cause harmful side effects, which means you can safely add it to everyday foods and beverages for good health.

images67) Turmeric. The inflammation responsible for swelling the lungs and constricting breathing passages during an asthma attack is no match for turmeric, the active ingredient of which is proving to be one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients in existence. Because it helps dilate blood vessels and relax muscles, turmeric is a powerful weapon in keeping asthma symptoms at bay.

images78) Elderberry. One of the richest plant-based sources of quercetin, a powerful antioxidant compound, elderberry is an incredible immune-boosting fruit that helps fight colds, flu, and respiratory illnesses like asthma. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), quercetin is particularly effective at blocking the release of histamines and other allergic and inflammatory chemicals in the body, including those associated with asthma.

images89) Apple. Similarly high in quercetin; apples have been shown to provide powerful protection against asthma. A study out of Europe found that pregnant women who ate at least four apples per week were 53 percent less likely to bear a child with doctor-confirmed asthma. And the same study that linked banana consumption to lowered asthma symptoms also found that children who drink apple juice are about 50 percent less likely to develop asthma symptoms.

images010) Chia seed. A powerhouse of omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and quercetin, chia seeds are another excellent addition to your anti-asthma diet. The omega-3s in chia seeds are known to help decrease inflammation in both children and adults, as well as restore natural balance to the lipid walls of cell membranes. A study involving the long-term use of omega-3 supplements in asthmatics has also confirmed that the nutrient can lead to a significant reduction is asthma symptoms, particularly in those suffering from allergy-related asthma.

I use most of these ingredients daily in my juicer, and my asthma most definitely has less of a choke hold on my life than it did before I discovered fresh veggies.  But as I’ve recently found out, there are still times when I need my inhaler.  If, like me, you threw yours out in your quest to rid yourself of pharmaceuticals, severe attacks can be pretty scary.  I’ve learned two tricks that can help: coffee and magnesium.  During the worst of my recent attacks, I frantically scoured the interwebs for any home remedies that sounded promising.  All the sites I visited agreed on one thing, and that was caffeine.  Countless asthma sufferers touted the benefits of a strong cup of coffee during the attack, as the caffeine helps relax the inflamed muscled in your airway.  (Sounds counter-intuitive, no?)  So there I sat, gulping down air and extra dark java, and within minutes I noticed the vice on my chest starting to loosen its grip.  I haven’t tried the magnesium trick yet, though I have Natural Calm mag powder and Ancient Minerals mag gel on hand for the next time the cold gets its icy claws onto my lungs.

Maybe Mother Nature needs some caffeine.  Or maybe we need to teach this groundhog a lesson, because his penchant for extending winter is not cool.  Watch out, Puxatony Phil.  We’re onto you.


Breathe Easy, Friends

“Between two lungs it was released
the breathe that passed from you to me
that flew between us as we slept
that slipped from your mouth into mine it crept.”

Breathing: it’s the first thing we do when we enter this world, the one thing we are born knowing how to do.  It’s the single most important action any of us will ever take, though so many people take it for granted.  But for people with asthma, breath doesn’t always come so easily.  And the feeling of your lungs begging for air is nothing less than terrifying.

I used to have a pretty serious problem with my asthma, and when I was young it was so bad that I had a nebulizer that I had to use almost daily in addition to a rescue inhaler.  I was hospitalized several times for it, and between the hospital meds and the home meds, I don’t even want to think about what kind of poisons I pumped in to my body daily.  I don’t even remember most of them (though I do know my mother was smart enough to keep me off steroids) except for my last inhaler, which I used from high school until this past year: Albuterol.

Albuterol is a bronchodilator, not a steroid, though it performs the same task of relaxing the bronchial muscles during an asthma attack.  While it doesn’t come with quite as serious side effects, it does present certain risks.  Immediate side effects include headache, dizziness, quickened or erratic heartbeat, nausea, sore throat, dry mouth, muscle pain or weakness, and diarrhea – all of which I remember vividly and dreaded each time I had an asthma attack.  Long term side effects include long-lasting muscle tremors, nervousness, high blood pressure, and low potassium (which can cause confusion, uneven heart rate, extreme thirst, increased urination, leg discomfort, and muscle weakness).  The worst for me were the heart palpitations and muscle tremors.  I still have a problem with leg cramps at night, and I’m starting to wonder if that is a result of almost 20 years of constant inhaler use.

Steroids are much worse, and I thank the powers that be everyday that my mother had the sense to keep them away from me.  The risk of adverse effects is much higher in children, and even short term use may cause mood swings and increased hunger; steroids also decrease immune function, especially against the virus that causes chickenpox.  Long term use of steroids can lead to a rounded face, insatiable hunger, insomnia, depression or mood swings, heartburn and indigestion, increased bruising, osteoporosis and stunted growth in children, increased risk of diabetes, and increased risk of cataracts.  With so many natural -and safer – options available, it seems ridiculous to me that anyone would choose steroids for asthma treatment, especially for a child.

If you want to research your specific asthma medication, check out Drugs.com’s list of asthma meds.

My doctor always told me that the best medicine for controlling asthma is exercise, and I wholeheartedly believe that.  Lungs, like any muscle, can be strengthened with proper exercise, so any kind of aerobic workout – swimming, jogging, Zumba, etc. – is ideal for asthmatics.  Switching to natural, safer cleaners can also make a difference, as many household cleaners are full of pretty awful chemicals that can exacerbate asthma symptoms.  There are also a lot of herbs that support respiratory health, including mullein, lobelia, comfrey, boswellia, and slippery elm bark, to name a few.  (For a more complete list of herbal remedies, check out DHerbs or the University of MD Medical Center.)  While I don’t completely trust New Chapter now that they’re owned by Proctor & Gamble, their line of mushroom LifeShield supplements used to be one of the most effective natural treatement options, and their LifeShield Breathe is definitely worth a shot – if you’re willing to give your money to P&G, that is.

When I made the decision to throw out my prescription inhaler, i debated for a while over which natural route to take.  Herbal supplements, while effective, are expensive, and I have a hard time remembering to take vitamins everyday.  I believe I’m in pretty good overall health anyway – I eat well and I bike 8 miles to and from work everyday – so I decided to skip straight to a rescue inhaler.  I use my inhaler once every month or two at most, usually because of pet allergies or cold weather.  But the inability to catch your breath is frightening enough that I cannot go without an inhaler.  From what I could find while doing my research, there is no holistic inhaler besides a few homeopathic sprays.  There are, however, many aromatherapy inhalers, a topic I’m not extremely knowledgeable in but definitely curious about.  I did some research, and I found that there are a number of essential oils that can ease asthma symptoms.  The ones that came up most often were lavendar, eucaplyptus, pine or cedarwood, mint, and sage.  (More inclusive lists can be found on DHerbs and AltMD.)  At the natural food store where I used to work, we carried a brand called Aromabar, and I used the testers frequently for everything from a stuffy nose to a headache, always with good results.  They are a little pricey, so I looked around online for a cheaper option and stumbled upon Earth Solutions.  While their packaging is a little funky looking (I think they have five-year-olds draw their labels…) their Breathe Easy aromatherapy inhaler has all the top herbs for asthma relief: eucalyptus, peppermint, pine, lavendar, cedarwood, and helichrysum (part of the sunflower family).  And it works!  After a major puppy-induced sneeze attack the other night, I was unable to catch my breath, and a few minutes of deep breathing with the inhaler under my nose eased my lungs significantly.

So, thanks again to the power of Mother Earth, I’ve removed one more of Big Pharma’s toxic thorns from my body.  And I hope that, through a healthy diet, a healthy lifestyle, and the healing power of herbs, others can do the same.  Breath is simply too important to put in the hands of anyone but your Mother!